Sunday – March 4, 2018
Scripture: 1 John 5:1-5
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
Who doesn’t love a good comeback story – the kind of story where a person or team is down and almost out before overcoming every obstacle and finding a path to victory. Between 1983 and 2003, so many Christians were killed in the Sudanese Civil War that a whole community of orphaned children arose who have become known as the Lost Boys of Sudan. Lopez Lomong was one of those boys. At six years old, he was kidnapped from his parents at gunpoint while attending church. He was to be trained as a soldier and lived in a prison for three weeks, eating a mixture of sorghum and sand.
He escaped with three teenage boys and trekked three days to the Kenya border. His friends were sent to the Sudanese officials because of their age, but Lopez was taken to Kaluma Refugee Camp where he lived ten years. He learned to write using his finger in the desert sand and daily ran the 30 Kilometer perimeter of the camp.
After writing an essay, he was chosen as one of 3,500 Lost Boys to come to the US, where he was adopted by Robert and Barbara Rogers from Tully, New York. A whole new education began: how to flush a toilet, the difference between the two knobs in the shower, how to turn off the light so he could sleep in the dark. Lopez Rogers struggled against many difficulties but eventually was able to overcome them and run the 1,500 meter race in the Beijing Olympics.
Did you know that you, too, are a great comeback story? You were down, out and spiritually dead. Do you know who else loves a great comeback story? Jesus! The world was scoring victory after victory against you until that day you accepted Jesus and everything changed. You became an overcomer and you still are, today.
Our passage for today has a lot to teach us as a church. John draws a line from accepting Jesus to loving God to loving his children. How do we love God? We keep His commands. But these commands aren’t burdensome – they don’t come as a duty or with the threat of punishment because Christ has already taken that burden from our shoulders. Instead, we are given the burden of His grace to carry. Jesus fought the battle and won. By accepting Him, we gain that victory through Him. He overcame the world so that we may overcome the world.
Let me give you three important lessons from our passage this morning. The first is that we show our love for God by keeping his commands. How do we show our love for God? It’s easy to feel love for God when all is going well we experience blessings in life. It is considerably more difficult to feel love for God when in the depths of tragedy, either personal or considered from afar. Where are our feelings of love when we are experiencing a busy season in our lives or when the children are screaming and it feels like chaos is all around us? No, love for God cannot be based on how we feel at a given moment. We would love God one moment and hate Him the next. Our love for God, as our love for our fellow believers, must be built on something much stronger than feelings. When we learn to pattern our lives after Christ, we are setting our lives up to love God regardless of how we feel. We go to church when we are tired from a difficult week and would rather sleep in. We praise God when we feel like cursing the world. We love each other even when we’re saying or doing hurtful things. It’s not always easy, but that’s why we don’t base our love for one another, and for God, on if our blood sugar is where it needs to be or if something bad has just happened or has been said. We love God by keeping his commands.
The second lesson is that a major mark of the Christian is a love for his fellow believer. If you love the Father, you love those who are born of Him as well. In 1 John 4:7 he says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Fellowship is very important to John as it is one of, if not THE, primary subject of this letter and this love is a mark of the Christian. Earlier, in 1 John 2:9-11, John says, “9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.” John is repeating this theme from earlier as he heads towards the end of his letter. In 1 John 3:14 John says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” Then, in 1 John 4:20, he says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” Jesus said, in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commands.” In John 13:34 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The relationship between believers is a special one. We are family, bound by our common adopted Heavenly Father and a brother, Jesus, who died for our sins. We follow His commands together. Fellowship with one another is very important to God and damaged relationships with our fellow believers affect our relationship with God. During your prayers, please consider asking God to help you fix any damaged relationships with fellow Christians and to change your attitudes going forward. Ask Him to teach you how to love better.
The third lesson is that when we accept Jesus, we accept His victory over the world and become overcomers. Verse 3 tells us God’s commands are not burdensome. This is important in order to understand the victory Jesus has given us. In Matthew 23:2-4 Jesus says, “2 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” This is a good contrast for our verse in 1 John 5. The Pharisees imposed their religious commands on the people and they suffered for it. They weren’t there to help, only to be harsh taskmasters demanding compliance and meting out punishment for failures. Instead, Jesus says, in Matthew 11:28-30, “28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” These commands John is talking about aren’t like the ones demanded by the Pharisees. These commands are the ones Jesus talked about. Why are they so light? Because Jesus has done the heavy lifting for us. We keep these commands out of love for our Heavenly Father, not out of duty or fear of punishment.
The heavy lifting I’m referring to is Jesus overcoming the world. The “world” refers the sinful nature, this physical existence and anything else counter to the spiritual life found in God. It’s in John 16:33 where Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Overcoming speaks of the victory we gain over all that holds us back in this world from a spiritual standpoint. Those born of God overcome the world because Jesus has already overcome the world. The verb, here, is in the present active tense – referring to a continuous victory or overcoming.
We’re talking about a spiritual victory, one that overcomes even the spiritual death we are rescued from when we accept Christ. This overcoming is done and it refers to the completed nature of the victory we have gained over the world by accepting Jesus, who has already won the victory on our behalf. Earlier, in 1 John 4:9, John said, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” A few verses earlier than that, in 1 John 4:4, He said, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Our faith is in Christ, the one John is referring to in that verse.
The story of Rocky is a great story of the underdog overcoming great obstacles and winning a great victory. In Rocky III we see Rocky losing a fight to Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T. Rocky just wasn’t ready, he had gotten soft. He was down in the dumps and lost after that fight but his old nemesis, Apollo Creed, comes to pick him up and help him to get back to where he needs to be. He trains hard to fight Clubber Lang again. We even get that famous scene of Rocky running up the steps in his home town of Philadelphia to the tune of victorious music. He gets to the top and jumps up and down with his hands in the air. Finally, he gets back into the ring and takes Clubber Lang down. He overcame and won the victory.
Do you have theme music that plays in your head? I know, that would clearly make you question your sanity if you did but I think you should hear the victory music from Rocky because you are an overcomer through the victory of Christ!