Behold, What Manner of Love

Sermon by David Strain on Oct 18, 2015

1 John 3:1-3

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Next Lord’s Day Evening we will be, I think as Tree said to you and as it says in the bulletin, we will be at the Twin Lakes campground for our dinner on the grounds and our evening worship service out there. I know that will be a wonderful evening. I hope you’ll all plan to come and join us for that. And then the Lord’s Day following that one, Dr. Gabe Fluhrer will be preaching and opening God’s Word. Let me therefore ask you to begin praying now for God’s rich blessing on the ministry of the Gospel from our pulpit here in the evenings at First Presbyterian Church in the weeks ahead of us. That does mean, however, having finished our expositions working through the book of Ruth and prior to a new season in the evening services coming next week, that I have this one standalone Sunday. And so as I was thinking and praying about what to preach on, I realized that I have an opportunity to turn the diamond of one of the most precious truths and perhaps one of the most neglected truths of the Christian life and of Holy Scripture. So let me invite you please to take a copy of God’s Word in your hands and to turn with me to 1 John chapter 3; page 1022 in the church Bibles. 1 John chapter 3. Actually we’ll back up and read from the twenty-eighth verse of chapter 2. Page 1022. Before we do that, let me ask you to bow your heads with me as we pray. Let’s pray.

Our Father, we have Your Word spread before us. We pray that You would pour out the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry, ‘Abba Father,’ upon all our hearts that as we hear Your Word we may hear the voice of our Father and as Your children be enabled to respond in faith and joy and with gladness. We pray for any here who are not children of God through faith in Your Son, the Lord Jesus. We ask that as the good news of Your provision of adoption for sinners is proclaimed that You would bring them to embrace Christ for themselves that, with us, they may know the joy of belonging to God as one of His precious children. For we ask it in Jesus’ holy name, amen.

1 John chapter 2 at verse 28. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

 

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy, inerrant Word.

I. Wonder

We’re thinking about 1 John 3:1-3 and I want to highlight just three words as we seek to understand the message of these verses. And the first word is the word, wonder; wonder. John is breathless with wonder as he surveys the extraordinary blessing that is ours as Christian believers. Would you look at verse 1 with me please? “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” It’s not a great translation, you know, not because it’s not accurate as far as it goes but because it doesn’t really capture and evoke much of the sense of astonishment with which John’s words are pregnant. Look at the text. The very first word translated in our version “see” is really the imperative, “behold.” It’s a command; a summons. John is summoning us to turn our attention to something of extraordinary beauty and worth. He’s focusing our spiritual lenses til we see with sharpest clarity the great truth that holds him. The mighty apostle John utterly spellbound in holy awe. “Behold,” he says, “the love of the Father.” This is something, as the late John Murray once put it, that “the apostle could not get over and he never will. Eternity will not exhaust its marvel.” Eternity will not exhaust its marvel. In an age of entertainment where the cheap banalities of digital stimuli are constant and relentless, John invites us to close our eyes, our physical eyes, on the fleeting, momentary distractions of this world and instead to open the eyes of faith on a sight that will supply endless fascination to all who will make it their great study. “Behold, what manner of love the Father has given to us.”

Measuring God’s Love

But he’s doing more than simply focusing our attention on God’s love. He’s really issuing something of a challenge to us. Look again at what he says. “See what kind of love the Father has given us.” It’s as though John were asking us to consider the Father’s love, to evaluate it. He’s inviting us to attempt to take it in, to measure it. “See what kind of love,” or “what manner of love the Father has given us.” Take out your measuring tape and just attempt to calculate the dimensions of such a love. Study it; examine it. Can you fathom its proportions? Can you comprehend its depths or reach its heights or find its ends? J. I. Packer once noted, “The New Testament gives us two yardsticks for measuring God’s love.” “The first,” he says, “is the cross.” He points to chapter 4 of the letter before us. 1 John 4 verse 9. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us that He sent His only Son into the world that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation,” the sacrifice that satisfies divine wrath, “He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” You measure the love of God first of all by the yardstick of the cross. “God has demonstrated His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners,” Romans 5 and verse 8, “Christ died for us.” The first yardstick is the cross.

God is Our Father

But there’s another yardstick with which to measure the Father’s love for us. Packer says it is the gift of sonship. Our adoption; that’s the great theme of the text before us, isn’t it? Adoption into the household and family of God - “Behold, what manner of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God.” How do you measure the extent of this love? You measure it by the fact that He has taken you and He has taken me and He has brought us into His own family and made us His children with all the rights and privileges of a child of God. “It were much,” Puritan Thomas Watson once wrote, “It were much for God to take a clod of dust and make it a star.” That’s something. “It is much more for Him to take a piece of clay and sin and adopt it for His heir.” That’s really something. Or listen again to Jim Packer. “If you want to judge how well a person understand Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.” It is the apex of grace and privilege, it is the summit and pinnacle of Christian beatitude that you, rebel sinners, should be called children of God. John’s overcome by it. He’s overcome by it. And he wants us to take in with him something of its wonder. We just sang about it, didn’t we? “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.” Wretched sinners, deserving only the wrath and curse of God, made children of God, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Why? Why? Why would He make me His son when I’ve lived so long His enemy? Because He loved me. Because He loves you. And He has given His only begotten Son for you. That’s the whole of the explanation.

And it actually leads us deeper into mystery, doesn’t it? We worship a God who adopts His enemies and punishes His Son! We worship a God who makes us His children at the price of the lifeblood of His only begotten. That’s how much He loves you. It is baffling and beautiful. And John stands breathless before the Grand Canyon of the most sublime mystery. “Behold, what manner of love the Father has given to us that we, we should be called children of God.” The first word is a word of wonder. I wonder if you can taste some of it for yourself - the breathless beauty and grandeur and glory of the adopting grace of God in the Gospel. Wonder.

II. Assurance

The second is a word of assurance. The word is assurance. Look at verse 1 again. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God and so we are.” And so we are! There’s this great note of assurance of spiritual certitude. We are God’s children. It’s not presumption; it is the reflex of faith before the wonder of the love of God. How, after all, can doubt stand before love as wondrous as this? How can we doubt that we belong to His family when He loves us like this? Love demonstrated at the cross rolling down upon us as a free gift. Here’s an antidote to spiritual uncertainty. Have you ever struggled with spiritual uncertainty? “Am I a child of God?” There are seasons when sin seems so strong, when our strength to resist is so meager, when our consciences sting and accuse and our hearts grieve and Satan assails us and we wonder if, perhaps, we’re really still unconverted after all.

And the book of 1 John, if you’ve ever read it you’ll know that the book of 1 John is a book of assurance. It’s designed to help us find spiritual comfort and certainty and assurance and it offers us various practical tests and arguments by which to establish whether or not we have truly been converted. We are called, 1 John says, “to walk in the light as He is in the light.” We are called “to keep His commandments.” We are called to confess the truth about Jesus the God-Man. We are called to love one another, “for love is from God and whoever loves has been born of God.” All of these and many others beside are the practical steps 1 John gives us to deepen and strengthen our assurance. But there are times, no matter how hard we look, or perhaps even the more we look at the record of our own attempts to obey and serve and love the brothers and confess the truth, sometimes the more we examine ourselves the less confident in our own authenticity we become. All we find are evidences of failure and we see less and less to commend itself; more and more that appears at least to us reflective of the old you, the old life. Well what should you do as you believe the Gospel and cling to Jesus and cry out in repentance and faith? You must not stop looking within; you must not stop evaluating your growth and obedience in Christian graces but you must not allow that inward look to be the longest or the deepest or the most frequent and characteristic direction of your gaze. No, you are to look up and away from yourself most of all. Look at the love of God for you in Christ by which He has secured your adoption as a child of His. You’re not a Christian because you obey; you are a Christian despite the fact of your persistent disobedience. You are not a Christian because you are lovely, though you appear terribly lovely from this vantage point. You’re not a Christian because you’re lovely but because despite all your unloveliness you have been loved with an everlasting love nonetheless. “Behold, what manner of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God and so we are.”

The Ground of Our Assurance

How are you able to come to a place where you are able to say, “So I am! This is true! It’s real!” When, as you look at your own heart you see so much remaining corruption, so much persistent, habitual sin that grieves you, how will you say, “So I am a child of God”? You come back to the pulpit of the Father’s love, the cross of Jesus Christ, where He preaches to you the devotion of His heart, where He preaches to you His unfailing love for you to make you His child. You are beloved not because you are lovely, but because He loves you despite your unloveliness. And as you take in the wonder of it and you remind yourself again, “The ground of my confidence before God is nothing in me but is the work of Christ my Redeemer,” you will be enabled to say, “Child of God, so I am.”

I remember seeing a documentary about adoption in another country. In one case a young girl was interviewed who’d come from terrible circumstances to live with a foster family on a farm inside the state system. And she’d lived with that foster family for really a prolonged period of time, for years, and she had grown to love them deeply and they to love her. But the law in that country was such that the foster parents, even after caring for her for so long, were not allowed to legally adopt her and make her formally their child. And so she lived in fear that the stable, happy home with a couple whom she’d begun to consider and call “Mom” and “Dad” would at some point suddenly be taken from her. She had no security because there was no way for her legally to become the adopted child of her foster parents. She feared that her status would be opened somehow to change at any moment.

And you may confess the Biblical truth of your spiritual certitude. You are a child of God; you can’t lose your salvation. You believe that intellectually and yet, lurking somewhere deep down, it may still be true for some of you that you think of your relationship with God the Father more like a foster relationship that at any moment may end than a fully legal adoption, permanent and stable and secure. Well what must you do if that’s true? Let John be your pastor for a moment. Here’s what you need to do, he says. Look at the love of God in Jesus Christ by which you have been adopted. He has secured your place in the family by means of the cross. Here are the lengths to which He has gone to make you His. Do you think He will ever let you go? Ever hand you back? No, He loves you. He’s given His Son for you. You are His forever.

And look at verse 2. “Beloved, we are God’s children now.” There’s that same beautiful note of spiritual assurance and comfort. “We are God’s children now and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when he appears,” Christ, “we will be like him because we shall see him as he is.” John assures us, do you see, not just of our new identity - children of God - but of our secure destiny. If you’re a child of God He’s going to come back for you and bring you home that you may be with Him where He is. You will be like Christ one day and all the evidence in your heart that shakes your assurance and causes your uncertainty will be eradicated forever. That is the promise of God to you, believer in Jesus. It may seem that you have a terribly long way in your spiritual pilgrimage still to journey. It may look to you that you are far from the man or the woman that God wants you to be. John is saying, “No, if you are an heir of God, an adopted child of God by grace, this is who you will be one day - the mirror of the character of the spotless Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. You will shine with the radiant reflection of your Redeemer.” The first is a word of wonder. The second is a word of assurance.

At some point, you know, as you hear Scripture promises designed to give you assurance, if you continue to refuse to believe them the real issue is not some doubt about whether or not you’re a child of God. The real issue is disobedience and unbelief in your heart. You believe the Gospel? Then put your hand over your mouth; stop protesting. God says you are His. The adoption deeds have been signed. It’s official. He will never, never, never let you go.

III. Imitation

Then the third word is a word of imitation. Wonder, assurance, imitation. John says children of the Father imitate Him in two ways here. The first is that we imitate God in our sufferings and the second is that we imitate God in our sanctification. We imitate Him in our suffering and in our sanctification. Look at verse 1 again. “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” We imitate God in our sufferings. It is an evidence of your adoption into the family that the world does not understand you, believer in Jesus. You don’t fit the world’s categories; you are an oddity, a misfit. Your values strike a discordant note in the ears of our culture. You’re not walking in lockstep with them. You do not love the world or the things of the world. They don’t get you! Let’s face it, Christians are weird! It’s okay, we’re meant to be weird. Embrace it!

In Suffering

“The reason the world does not know you is that it did not know him.” You’re not like the world. You are being made like your Savior, the Lord Jesus. You bear the family characteristics. The world rejects the Gospel; it denies the Lordship of Christ. It robs the Father of His glory; it killed God’s only begotten Son. Do you really think it will treat you, God’s adopted child, any differently? We ought not to expect all the privileges of adoption into the family of faith without also being prepared to endure its cost. We live at a time when to follow Jesus Christ and to keep His commandments is becoming increasingly costly. There’s a growing cultural hostility towards basic, Biblical ethics and the exclusive claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Stand firm as a child of God and do not be surprised when the rejection the world throws at Abba Father is thrown also at you, His beloved child by adoption.

In Sanctification

The children of God imitate their Father in their sufferings, then finally the children of God imitate their Father in their sanctification, their holiness. Look at verse 3. “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself, even as he is pure.” Purity of life always accompanies hope in the Christian Gospel and adoption into the household of God. Purity of life always, in some measure and in a growing manner, accompanies adoption into the family of God. Awhile back I read a young man’s story who spoke about his family who adopted children who’d been born addicted to crack cocaine. “In human terms,” he said, “it’s only genuine love that can lead parents to adopt babies born addicted to crack. Human reason can’t explain that. My relatives could have chosen a perfect child to adopt and been all right but they chose perhaps the hardest kids to adopt. They had to fight agencies that didn’t like white families adopting black kids, not to mention the social persecution they faced and doctors who told them to put the babies in institutions because they couldn’t be controlled and would never be productive. But my relatives displayed true love, sacrificing sleep and money and time, etc. all to love their adopted child.” The adoptive love of that family changed the entire destiny and the contours of the whole life of the children they adopted. Everything was different because of the adopting love of those parents. Everything was different. That’s what John is saying here. If you’ve been adopted into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ, nothing can stay the same.

Picture a father with a disruptive, squirming, five-year-old little boy and he tells the little boy to behave and he looks contrite and says he will and then a few moments later he’s misbehaving again and then again and again and again and again and some fathers would lose their temper, blow up in a rage, overreact, but not this father. He takes his son aside and he steps down and he looks him in the eye and he says, “You are my son and I love you and in our family we don’t act like that.” Remember whose child you are. Remember whose child you are. “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself even as he is pure.” Your father who loves you and has adopted you is holy, pure, righteous, and He calls you to be the same - men and women of purity who bear the family likeness. Three words - wonder. “Behold, what manner of love the Father has given to us that we should be called the children of God.” Assurance - “and so we are. We are God’s children now. We shall be like Him for we shall see Him face to face.” And imitation - “The world does not know us because it did not know Him. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself even as he is pure.” May God help us to come to the marvel, the wonder of His adopting love and begin to adore Him and live for His glory as children of the King. Let’s pray.

Father, we bless You for the Gospel by which You have made us Your children. Help us as we leave this evening to leave with new gratitude for Your grace, new wonder at Your love, new confidence and assurance that such love will never fail, never be broken. It is a relentless, unending love. And to leave resolved, having been made the beneficiaries of adopting love, to live for Your glory, to be pure even as You are pure. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

©2015 First Presbyterian Church.

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