Below is my manuscript for the ten-minute sermon I preached at August Gate (our home church). It was the first sermon I ever preached.
I was part of a team of ten or so guys chosen to preach during the Advent season. Instead of one 40-minute long sermon, each week three guys would preach a ten-minute sermon based upon a theme like “Jesus is our hope” or “Jesus is our love.”
Before we could that, however, we had to attend a 4-week preaching lab, which amounted to meeting at 6 a.m. in our St. Louis office with our lead paster for an hour every Tuesday during the month of November. During that hour he trained us on how to properly study and preach the Word of God.
In addition, we had to turn in our sermon outlines to our lead pastor two-weeks before we preached. Once he approved our outline, we could work on our sermon manuscript, which we had to turn in one-week before we preached.
I have to confess: this was a lot of hard work. And there is a reason why I am a writer and not a pastor. My esteem for these fellas has gone up. My sermon sounds much better in print than person. Enjoy.
Hello August Gate. Let’s jump right in with a story. It’s November 2007. It’s cold and overcast and I’m standing on my driveway staring at my family who is sitting in the sunroom of our house. A family whom I love deeply. But at that moment I was at a crossroads. See, at that time in my life I had hit rock bottom. A host of boneheaded mistakes finally caught up with me … and I was in real trouble. Not legal trouble, but personal, spiritual trouble. I was convicted, raw, and reeling, and in an effort to turn things around I had made several promises. Those promises included giving up anything that didn’t contribute to my Christian life.
Mind you, in the ten years leading up to this crisis I was serving faithfully in the church. For ten years I attended every Sunday service and every Wednesday evening Bible study … I taught Sunday school, tithed, performed in annual Easter and Christmas pageants, and even led small groups. But there was a huge problem with my heart: it was woefully detached and rebellious. I didn’t truly love God like I thought I did.
I learned all this when I went to a local Christian conference. The speaker was preaching from 1 John, and the title of his sermon was “Marks of a True and False Christian.” And at one point during his sermon the preacher ran down a list of questions … sort of a litmus test to determine whether you were a true or false Christian.
He asked …
“Do you love God?” Yes, of course I love God. I am a Christian. That’s what Christians do..
“Do you confess God came in the flesh?” Sure, intellectually I believed that.
“Do you love to obey his commands?” No.
“Do you love other Christians?” No.
“Do you love the world more than you love God?” Yes.
“Do you long for Jesus’ return?” No.
See, that preacher was on to me. God was on to me. Here I was – a Christian of ten years – who didn’t look like a true Christian. I was like what Jesus called a white-washed tomb full of dead men’s bones. I looked good on the outside, but on the inside I was dead. In other words, I was a hypocrite.
And to give you a small picture of how bad I was, put me in a room with other Christians … and I was annoyed. They were not as intelligent as I was. Not as literary. Flat out, not as cool. I wanted out of that room as fast as possible. And I admit, I studied theology and the Bible a lot during those ten years. But that was only because I wanted to be the smartest guy in the room.
That day at the conference I realized I was in huge trouble because the Bible says “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
Furthermore, the apostle John, who wrote those words, goes on to say anyone who hates his brother is a murderer. And then he compares him to Cain. You know Cain. The dude who killed his own brother, Abel. Cain is not a biblical character we should admire. At all.
I was completely devastated, and begged God’s forgiveness … and I asked him for true love. And he gave it to me. Because that is the only way we can do it. We have to ask him for his kind of love.
And let me be clear: this is not a cuddling by the fire type of love. It’s not a kissing in a torrential downpour kind of love. It’s a love that involves protection, security, peace, a sense of belonging, a sense of worth, and sacrifice for the good of others. Think of a father teaching his son how to work. A mother caring for her sick child.
Or Jesus hanging on a cross.
I can genuinely say that I love Christians today … but obviously not because I figured out how to love like a Christian … but I love because God first loved me.
And that is our text today … 1 John 4:19, which says, “We love, because he first loved us.”
In essence, what John is telling that first century church is that their love for God, each other and the lost is a gift from God. It’s a gift. “We love because he first loved us.” They did not earn their love. In fact, if left to themselves, they would hate God, despise each other, and neglect the lost and destitute. And, more importantly, they would still be under the condemnation of God.
In other words, they would not be true Christians.
And that was the point behind John’s letter to this church in Eh-fa-sis … he was making a case that true teaching from the Bible really does matter.
What John is saying is that if you get major Christian truths wrong, you’ll fall into a rebellious lifestyle where you desire sin more than God. And godly love can’t exist in that environment. But get major Christian truths right and you’ll have confidence in your salvation, confidence your prayers will be answered, and confidence you are no longer under God’s condemnation.
See, in this letter John is reminding the church of the fundamental truths about Jesus they learned. They knew truth. However, false teachers in this church were spreading lies, starting with the biggest: God did not come in the flesh. And the distortion of a major truth like that led them to slide into sin.
- Because if we don’t believe Jesus came in the flesh, then we don’t think this body, this physical world, matters.
- And if we believe that, then we don’t believe what we do with our bodies matters. We can sin, as long as our spirits remain pure. That low view of sin (1 John 1:8) then leads to a belief that we don’t really need to obey God’s commands (1 John 2:4).
- And if you don’t think it’s a big deal to obey God’s command, you’re certainly not going to love other Christians (1 John 2:9) like God commands us. Because that’s hard. People are messy.
- And when it’s all about you, you’re going to love the pleasures of this world more than what God has to offer (1 John 2:15) … which naturally leads to an apathy for the return of Jesus (1 John 2:28).
That’s what false teaching leads to: a self-indulgent lifestyle. In the end, you end up with people who think they are believers … but in reality are not. Just like I was.
So let’s think about God’s love for a moment. The Bible teaches that God’s love is a love that loves us before the foundation of the world … that loves us from everlasting to everlasting … a love that loves those who hated him … that loves those who are broken, mean, and spiteful. It is a sovereign, free, and unearned love.
And most importantly, it is a sacrificial love.
First John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
In other words, Jesus satisfies the wrath of God that we deserve because of our sins. Jesus pays for our crimes against God. On his own initiative. It is a free, sovereign, and sacrificial choice. That is Jesus’ amazing love.
And this is why John can say in the first verse of the third chapter: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” And I love this in the NIV because the statement ends with an exclamation point. It’s like John is slamming his fist on the table.
The point is this is a love we don’t deserve, yet we get to experience. And so the proper response to that type of love looks like this: we should love one another. That’s what God commands us to do. God’s selfless love is a love that makes us capable of loving others, so we should … and can … love others. .
And when we have this love for God, each other, and the lost, it’s a great proof of our conversion: “Beloved,” John writes, “let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
So, let me close by asking a few questions.
First, how do people know you love God? Is it because you are always proclaiming your passion for Jesus and always knee deep in church activities? Or is it because of the love you show in word and deeds to Christians, the lost, and the destitute?
Or do you harbor a secret hatred for other believers while singing praises to Jesus? Is your love for God in your head, but not your heart? In other words, are you a hypocrite like I was?
See, in the end, if your love for God is not expressing itself tangibly in deeds of love for others, ask Him to change your heart and help you to love others with a genuine, godly love. God will honor that kind of prayer.
And for the non-Christians in the room, if this is a kind of love you would love to know, then surrender. Confess your sins, turn to Jesus, and trust in him. God will honor that kind of prayer, too.
Finally, let me say this. Christmas is fast approaching, which means another round of family time. Some of us look forward to this time with family. Others, not so much. Being around family re-opens wounds, resurrects old arguments. Pain and dysfunction best describe these events. All you want is your mother to listen to you. Your father to accept you. Your brothers and sisters to laugh with you. Instead, all you get is strife, sarcasm, and disappointment. Unfortunately that may be all you ever know from your family until the day you die.
Not so in God’s family. Jesus came into this world to deliver us from this dysfunction. Our dysfunction, and their dysfunction. He came into this world to bring us peace, security, and a sense of belonging. We may never experience those things with our earthly family — but we will experience those things in God’s family. And we will experience those things in a healthy church family, especially in one that honors Christian truth. So, here’s your challenge: if you find yourself this Christmas surrounded by broken, mean, and spiteful people — people who bring out the worst in you — remember this: “We love, because he first loved us.”
Let’s pray. Jesus, we love you. We love your love for us, a love displayed in your willingness to come into our world and die for our sins. A love that is so amazing. A love that is never ending. And a love that is selfless. And forgive us, Father, for those times that we’ve said we loved you, yet hated our brothers and sisters in Christ. Help us to love the unlovable. And please, increase our love for you, others in the church, and the lost. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.