Love is our means. Love is our strength. Love is our hope. Love is the end. Love is the tool God used to save the world. Love is the victory. Love is the only acceptable outcome.
1 John 4:4 & 5:3-5 “Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the God who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world…. For the love of God is this, that we obey God’s commandments. And God’s commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world- the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God!”
John 4: 7-11, 16b-21 “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through Christ. In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 16b God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the Day of Judgment, because as Christ is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because God first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from God is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters as well.”
As we close out this series on 1 John, we have two chapters and one Sunday! As I read and sought to put these two final chapters together, there are two themes in both chapters. Both are full of Good News! One theme is about conquering, overcoming evil, about victory over hate, and God’s triumph. “Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world- the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God!”
The second theme fills the whole book- love. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
Can you hold a theme love and conquering in harmony? Do overcoming and loving seem congruent? Or do God’s Love and God’s Triumph seem at cross purposes with each other? Can you conquer and love? Can love be the victory? Can love win? Can love lead us to victory over evil? We usually think of victory and conquering as a matter of knocking someone down, getting the better of another, of using force, of bending wills, of deploying power or defeating another. We think of love lifting another up, giving to another, of using kindness, of opening hearts, of disarming, self-sacrificing and submission. Can love be the tool that conquers evil?
We may even be guilty of believing that love is a kind of weakness- that Jesus would have been stronger if he had fought instead of taking up the cross. It is so easy to hate. Hate requires no thought, restraint, or energy. It is infinitely harder love your enemy, pray for your persecutor, and turn the other check than to hate, malign, and strike at enemies. You do not need God’s power to hate; hate demands nothing but selfishness. Hate is weak, cowardly and self-absorbed.
Over and over again 1 John contrasts love and hate. Now John marries love and victory. 1 John puts love and victory together: “whatever is born of God conquers the world… everyone who loves is born of God- God is love.” Whatever is born of God is both loving and conquering. These two forces, overcoming power and absolute love, are not in opposition, for you see friends: love wins. Any outcome in this world that is less than love is a failure, for the very nature of God is love and the end-goal of all living is love (1 Corinthians 13 “only faith hope and love remain and the greatest of these is love”), and the tool that God uses to reach the world is love (“For God so loved the world” John 3:16). Simply put, love wins. Love is the victory. Anything less than love falls short of conquering evil!
Do you believe love conquers evil? Do you see love as the overcoming solution for the divisions around your table, down your block, in our community, in our nation, or in our world?
In these past weeks of open division, attempted terror, and heated rhetoric, I have found myself re-reading the prophetic letters and sermons of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Reverend Doctor King knew terrorism and threats. His home was firebombed: Corretta instinctively snatching up the children when she heard a strange thud on their front porch. Doctor King spoke truth and marched for freedom. He was jailed, hosed down, beaten, mocked, characterized, scrutinized, and martyred in the eternal struggle for community, equality, justice and civility. He preached non-violence. I tend to align more with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, another modern Christian martyr, who died in a German death camp. Bonhoeffer believed that at times we must use force to overcome evil and protect innocent lives. At times, I wonder if it is my own lack of faith or unwillingness to fully embrace Jesus’ path that keeps me clinging to the just war theory. Perhaps as nations we must empower soldiers and police, but a nation that is guided by violence, will only create violence. Something redemptive must guide us. We often use grand scenarios like Nazi Germany to dismiss Jesus’ injunction to pray for our persecutors and forgive the trespasser, when someone says something bad about us at work or cuts us off on the freeway! We don’t apply Jesus teaching to our lives, using the worst case scenario to dismiss simple everyday applications of Jesus preaching!
In 1962, Dr King wrote “The Case Against ‘Tokenism’”. Its prophetic words ring true today. We must heed the warning, if we hope to stay together as a people or live Christian lives!
“One of the most persistent philosophical debates throughout the centuries has been over the question of ends and means. There have been those, like Machiavelli, who have argued that the end justifies the means…. In a real sense, the means represent the ideal in the making – the end in process. So, in the long run, destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends because the ends are preexistent in the means. … The method of nonviolent resistance is effective in that it has a way of disarming opponents. It exposes their moral defenses, weakens their morale and at the same time works on their conscience. It makes it possible for the individual to struggle for moral ends through moral means.
Nonviolent resistance also provides a creative force through which people can channelize their discontent. It does not require that they abandon it, for this kind of discontent is sound and healthy. Nonviolence simply saves it from degenerating into morbid bitterness and hatred. Hate is always tragic. It is as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated. It distorts the personality and scars the soul. And this is the beauty of nonviolence. It says you can struggle without hating; you can fight war without violence.”
The means make the end. The end pre-exists inside the means. “In a real sense, the means represent the ideal in the making – the end in process. So, in the long run, destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends because the ends are preexistent in the means.”
At a mall one day, I watched a mother run over to break up her two children who were fighting. She grabbed them both and tore them apart then she quickly spanked both boys while angrily, loudly, scolding them saying “we do not hit.” The irony of spanking and repeating “we do not hit” seemed to be registering with the older of the boys. The means make the end. The end pre-exists inside the means.
Have you ever seen two people who love each other yelling at each other? Does yelling build love? Now fighting shows a desire to stay together and can at times open things up, but the tactic of yelling or belittling or name calling or kitchen-sinking never breeds love! Can you create harmony with harsh words? Can you yell at the dog and expect them to run to you? My father, an old master sergeant could yell, but when my mother looked quietly over the top of her glasses and with a whispery teacher’s voice said “Paul Purdue, I am so disappointed in you,” oh that crushed my hubris while calling me up! Love is not weak- it is the most powerful force in the universe.
Listen to this list of means and ends. Consider your means the likely ends our actions will produce!
You can’t scream while teaching equality.
You can’t hit your way to respect.
You can’t use force and foster tender feelings in a child, lover or enemy.
Bullying never brought about civility.
Hateful words never communicate love.
Hate-fueled actions only create more hate. Hate ends love.
Untruth never breeds truth.
Righteousness does not sin.
You can’t build a lasting community through violence- it always tears apart.
Jealousy never made a real friend.
Fighting must end before there is peace.
The means create the end. The end is already inside the tools we employ.
Cheating never establishes justice.
Trust never borrows lies.
Those who plant fear will never grow courage.
Those who belittle do not befriend.
Arms locked in anger can’t reach out to embrace.
Minds set on revenge can’t envision hope.
Immoral means never make moral ends.
Discord never sings in joyful harmony.
You can’t stir division and build unity.
Shouting louder never made something true.
The end is being created by the means we use!
My mother was rushing around making dinner, while we school age kids sat the table. She was about to put the macaroni and cheese in the oven for a quick broil, when she reached over to grab the parmesan cheese and sprinkle it across the bread crumb infused top layer. Suddenly, she screamed because she had in haste grabbed the Ajax and poured green cleaning solution all over the almost finished favorite dish. You can’t undo that. We ate quick boiled peas. The means make the ends!
An unkind word can ruin a dish.
Bitterness nourishes no one.
Gossip never feeds a soul.
What we whisper in the parking lots or the backseat of the bus never makes someone more Christ-like.
Impatience never leaves us well-rested.
Selfishness never leaves us satisfied.
Lust consumes, takes, and falls far short of love.
Greed heals no one.
Unfaithfulness never stirs in faithfulness.
Rage holds no serenity.
Love needs no fear.
Hate is always tragic.
The means are the ends being made.
God is Love – Love is our end-goal. Love is our tool! Love is God’s plan,
The end of everything is love- so love is our only means.
Love is the only means that ends in love.
If I die while seeking to love the unlovely then I am still living a life of Love. If I die while hating or the world ends in hate, that is a cosmic defeat. Love is the only victory. Only faith, hope and love remain!
Hear the Word of God again. I have no story that matches the power of John’s words on love. Love is our means. Love is the end. Love is the victory. Love is the only acceptable outcome.
“Beloved, let us love one another…. Let us love one another because love is from God.
Everyone who loves is born of God. Whoever does not love does not know God,
God is love.
God’s love sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through Christ.
This is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent Jesus to atone for our sins.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
If we love one another, God lives in us.
God’s love is perfected in us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
Love gives us boldness even on the Day of Judgment, because there is no fear in love.
Perfect love casts out fear: whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
If we say, “I love God,” and hate our brothers or sisters, we are liars;
Those who do not love cannot love God.
God’s commandment is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters.
Love is the victory that conquers the world. Amen, may it be so in us, amen.”
Love is our means. Love is our strength. Love is our hope. Love is the end. Love is the tool God used to save the world! Love is the victory. Love is the only acceptable outcome. Let love judge all we do. Let us be conquered by God’s love, and then caught in love, let us conquer by love!