Tough Love: Need to Heal
Topic: Healing & Helping Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1–13:8, John 3:16–3:24
Have you ever had one of those moments when you realize just how incredible the human body truly is? All of God’s creative complexity is on display when we stop and really consider the miracle that is our physical form. Our eyes are able to take in what is before us and transmit that information to our brains, where those impulses are then translated into responses of anything from fear to wonder to humor. Our bodies grow. We comment on this whenever we see children after a period of absence, but our bodies are able to grow from the form of an infant into that of an adult. How incredible is that? Everything from our fingernails to our circulatory system represents nothing short of a biological marvel. But there is one aspect of our bodies that has always blown me away - our ability to heal.
Think about a simple wound, a scratch. Almost immediately, your blood cells begin to clump together and clot to stop the bleeding and cover the wound. Your white blood cells then get to work fighting off infection and creating the very chemicals needed to heal the wound. Your blood cells then begin creating collagen to rebuild and repair the damaged tissue. You might notice a scar, but within three months, the wound is almost as strong and healthy as it was prior to the cut. And our bodies do all this automatically, almost miraculously.
And I can’t think about miraculous healing without my wife, Caitlin, coming to mind immediately. As most of you know, my wife suffered a traumatic and nearly fatal blockage in the central vein of her brain that left her hospitalized for a full month. The doctors likened it to a slow-motion stroke. The incredible thing is that today Caitlin is virtually completely healed. Her neurosurgeon told me that there were small portions of her brain that actually died from lack of oxygen but that her body would naturally heal itself and essentially reroute to restore full function. I am thankful every day to our marvelous Creator for His endowment of the healing ability that is fostered within our bodies.
Healing has a lot in common with another miraculous and astounding reality in our world: love. We are continuing through the book of 1 John in our “Tough Love” series this morning, and the text we are going to explore focuses on the function, the action, and the effect of love. John helps remind us why love is so critical and special, and it’s tied directly to something we all have - a Need to Heal. We’re in 1 John 3:16-24.
Right off the bat, you have to appreciate how John gets straight to the point. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” As we search for the most fulfilling and genuine definition of love, we can’t get much closer than verse 16. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Ok, if this is love, then maybe this will be Matt’s shortest sermon ever.” Well, I love you all too much to let that be the case. In all honesty, John doesn’t leave it there either. His writing continues with an extremely important proclamation - that we ought to do the same. You see, John doesn’t stop with simply telling us what love is. John goes on and tells us what love looks like. And love, according to John’s writing, looks a lot like compassion, empathy, presence, and tenderness. Love, in many ways, looks like healing.
Going right to the point, John asks the question of how someone can possess the love of God in their heart if their heart doesn’t break for those in need. It seems impossible to John that someone could be filled with the love of God and yet not possess a yearning and a desire to help those who are hurting, are lost, and are hopeless. When we come across someone in this world who is broken and weary and buckling under the weight of realities like pain and anxiety, we are shown that our natural response should be one of compassion and justice. We should feel a burden to bring hope and renewal where we see sadness and fear. When we see someone hurting, we should feel a Need to Heal.
It’s not enough for us to feel bad and then simply continue on our way. Again, John hammers home this foundational truth: “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” Professor D. Moody Smith from Duke Divinity school explains it this way: “Love is not just a special way of feeling; it is an orientation of life and action.” An image that came to my mind is when one of my sons gets sick. It could be a cough or maybe a fever. If I simply saw that they were feeling terrible, that they had a temperature or something else like that, and felt bad for them but did nothing to help, you’d call me a bad parent. That’s because my affection and my sympathy for my children when they are hurting should always be accompanied by a driving Need to Heal them and help them as well. John applies that reality to our experience with any other person we encounter who is hurting. Maybe they are sick with worry instead of a fever. Maybe they are choked not by a sore throat but by stifling financial circumstances. The cancer attacking their life could be leukemia, melanoma, or it could be the cancer of prejudice, racism, or abuse. Regardless, our response should not simply be one of sympathetic sadness but of a driven desire to help, heal, and liberate that person.
Now, I want to make sure I say this; I know how hard this holy, powerful, and critical work can be. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience, but I will admit that there have been times where I have looked out and considered all of the pain and brokenness and sadness that I see in this world, and I have wondered to myself what difference I can really make. How can I, just one person, really do anything that will help. There are times where my desire and my Need to Heal is staggered by the sheer magnitude of what I see.
But I think of Jesus. Jesus who, even though he was already on his way to heal a young girl who was dying, stopped to heal a woman who had been sick for over a decade. Jesus who, when he approached a well for water, took the opportunity to speak freedom into the life of a woman who felt trapped under her past decisions and the damnation of society. Jesus who, when He considered you and me and all of us and all of the terrible mistakes we would make, chose to carry His cross and die for us.
And I think of you, my church family. You who, upon becoming aware of countless kids and families who are going hungry, decided to fill your trunks with donations we could share or carried meals we could deliver to doorsteps. You who, knowing that so many would go without this Christmas, made the decision to shop for toys and sweatshirts and gifts that might bring a ray of joy in those stories. You who, have helped foster the building of homes for the homeless and those of you who have loved and cared for and prayed for our own brothers and sisters who have been sick or struck with tragedy. You who know there is so much more we can do and who are not only ready but excited for how First Pres can love our neighbors more fully and more faithfully.
But, my friends, it is not only others who should benefit from our Need to Heal. John goes a step further, a step inward. Verse 20: “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” The truth is that there are parts of ourselves, often hidden and private within our own hearts, that also Need to Heal. That also needs to be shown grace and hope and restoration.
Many of you know immediately what John means when he brings up how our hearts can condemn us. Voices within that whisper and repeat lies that you are not worth it, that you’re not enough, that you are broken. That because you’ve done this or because someone has said that or because, because, because… we all have those lies that echo off the chambers of our heart. We allow ourselves to be convinced that we, even though we willingly offer generosity and hope to others, that we are somehow disqualified from receiving that same grace. Friends, I know those lies as well. And I know how crippling and asphyxiating they can be. When John defines love as responding to the needs of those who are hurting, he is also referring to those of us who, for whatever reason, condemn ourselves. We Need to Heal as well. That vulnerable, hard, liberating work begins in our relationship with the God who made us and who loves us, and it is given fullness and beauty and form within the community and friendship of other Christ-followers within our church. It’s not easy, and believe me, I know how terrifying and revealing it can feel. But just as a wound must first be shown and treated to heal, so too must we open ourselves to the healing and restorative truth and grace of God so that we might find wholeness and new hope.
Over the last few weeks, we have learned from Christ’s disciple, John, just how tough love truly is. The words written in his letter that we call 1 John are not easy or light. But they are rich. Love, God’s love, true Tough Love, is so much more than a simple emotion or feeling. It truly is a central tenet of our faith and a lifestyle to be lived, a mindset to be held, and a discipline to be practiced. Yes, it is meant to be focused on and shared with others. Absolutely. But it is also something meant to flow inwardly, and it is meant to be a gift that we receive and not simply one we offer. Finding the ability and means to love ourselves, to see ourselves as God sees us, is a ministry of mercy just as Christian as serving those who hunger for food or who grieve. Because whether it is strangers we cross paths with, friends or family who we have known for years, or even ourselves, we do the work of our Savior when we honestly and genuinely see and respond to those stories that we know Need to Heal.