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“We Love Because He First Loved Us”
1 John 4:19


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Sixth Sunday of Easter—Mother’s Day—Mary 13, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In today’s Epistle Reading, the Apostle John says that the love of God toward you is the motivation and the model for your love toward others: “We Love Because He First Loved Us.”

In the Greek language in which the New Testament was originally written our English word “love” is represented by four different words with shades of meaning.  In classical Greek, outside the New Testament, the most common words for love are “erao,” sexual love; “phileo,” brotherly love; and “stergo,” a fondness, like the bumper stickers with a heart that say “I ‘love’” something.

Relatively rare in classical Greek is the word used most frequently for love in the New Testament: “agape.”  Agape means an undeserved love; a love which you have not earned nor have a right to expect; a love which is given to you not because of who YOU are or what you have done, but because of who the one loving you is, because showing love is that person’s very nature.  John expresses this aspect of agape in the verses just before today’s Epistle Reading: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us . . .  for God IS love.”

We humans have a tendency to “love the lovable,” to show our love only to those who earn it in some way, or love us in return.  But, because “God IS love,” because underserved love, agape, is God’s very nature, he shows love to us even though our sins deserve not his love but his wrath and anger.

Agape is undeserved love, and it is also self-sacrificial love, love which shows itself in action, giving up oneself for the sake of others.  Just before today’s Epistle Reading, John describes the action God took to show his agape, his self-sacrificial love toward us: “This is how God showed his love for us: He sent his only-begotten Son into the world that we may live through him. . .  he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  Paul says in Romans: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  And Jesus beautifully describes his self-sacrificial agape toward us in today’s Gospel Reading, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life.”

Agape is undeserved love, self-sacrificial love, and forgiving love.  John says in Revelation: “He loved us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.”  Your sins are all forgiven because of God’s agape, God’s underserved, self-sacrificial, forgiving love.  As Peter says in today’s Reading from the Book of Acts, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus tells the disciples at the Last Supper: “My command is this: Love one another as I have loved you.”  We respond to God’s agape, God’s undeserved, self-sacrificial, forgiving love toward us, by showing agape, undeserved, self-sacrificial, forgiving love, toward others.  As John says in today’s Epistle Reading, “For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

The love of God toward us is the motivation for our love toward one another: “We Love Because He First Loved Us.”  Paul puts it this way in Ephesians: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger. . .  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore . . . and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”

The love of God toward you is the motivation, and also the model, for your love toward others. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel Reading, “Now remain in my love.”  “We love because he first loved us” could literally be translated, “We show agape because he showed agape toward us.”  In your life show toward others God’s agape, undeserved, self-sacrificial, forgiving love.

As we observe Mother’s Day today, perhaps the greatest example of showing agape is a mother’s love, both for her children and her husband.  In their book Real Marriage, Mark and Grace Driscoll describe the agape shown by the first Lutheran pastor’s wife, Katie Luther:

“By all accounts, Katherine was a wonderful mother . . . They had three boys and three girls during their first nine years of marriage. Tragically, one daughter died at the age of 13 months and another at 13 years in the arms of her devastated father. . . When [Martin] suffered from [many illnesses Katherine] nursed him back to health. When he would fall into his frequent bouts with severe depression, she would hold him, pray for him, comfort him, and read Scripture to him.  She drove the wagon, looked after their fields and gardens, purchased and pastured cattle, brewed beer, rented horses, sold linen, helped edit his writings, prepared meals, kept house, raised kids, entertained guests, and was often awake by 4:00am and working until 9:00pm.  She was such an incredibly hard worker that Martin had to frequently urge her to relax and even offered to pay her to sit down and read her Bible. She reportedly had a keen theological mind and often sat with Martin and visiting theologians to discuss and debate theology. . .  He wrote, ‘The greatest gift of grace a man can have is a pious, God-fearing, [diligent] wife, whom he can trust with all his goods, body, and life itself, as well as having her as the mother of his children.’” . . .  The tenderness with which Martin spoke of his wife increased throughout their marriage. He wrote, ‘I am a happy husband and may God continue to send me happiness, from that most gracious woman, my best of wives.’ . . .  In his will he said, ‘My Katherine has always been a gentle, pious, and faithful wife to me, [and] has loved me dearly.’”

“My command is this: Love one another as I have loved you.”  The love of God toward you is the motivation and the model for your love toward others.  “We Love Because He First Loved Us.”

Amen.

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