Pastoral Perspectives

Because He First Loved Us

We have just returned from Church Camp and I would like to share with the rest of the church some of my thoughts which have been inspired by the three messages preached by Dr Tan Kim Huat our camp speaker. He started off with the statement ‘because he first loved us’ which is taken from 1 John 4.19 and pointed out that this statement is the distillation (or essence) of our profound faith. Indeed, everything we do should find its motivation from this truth. This is the starting point. God is love and He loves us immensely and that immense love can be most vividly seen in the second Person of the Trinity when he was borne into the world (God becoming Man), walked the dusty streets of Palestine to attend to fellow human beings, many of whom were society’s rejects; yet he was given an unfair sentence for he had done no wrong. Instead of calling down his legion of angels to deliver him from the unjust sufferings, he subjected himself to all the torture, pain and shame just so that through his death and resurrection, Satan would be dealt a fatal blow and all who put their faith in him can receive the forgiveness of sins and be freed once and for all from sin’s bondage and condemnation! This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (1 John 4.10).

If God’s love for us is the starting point, then we ought to love God because he first loved us; we ought to love people because he first loved us.  We obey God because he first loved us. We gather for worship because he first loved us. We sing in the choir because he first loved us. We teach in the tuition ministry because he first loved us. We serve because he first loved us. We give generously because he first loved us. We forgive because he first loved us. We lend a listening ear because he first loved us. We render help because he first loved us. We visit the sick because he first loved us. We love our enemies because he first loved us. We walk across the room because he first loved us. We share our testimony because he first loved us. We share the Gospel because he first loved us. We make disciples because he first loved us. We engage the community because he first loved us. We help the poor because he first loved us. We bear a good testimony in all that we do because he first loved us. We want to become like Jesus because he first loved us. Do you have a good sense where this is going? Yes, if we are so convicted that God is love and that he loves us immensely, we will never be found lacking in our zeal for him and everything we do will be motivated by this one truth – he first loved us.

How can we constantly stand in awe and wonder of God’s love for us instead of allowing that truth to become merely a cliché on our lips or a thought in our heads? Well, let’s continue to meditate on God’s marvellous deeds. We do that whenever we read his Word, come together for worship, gather for Bible study or even sit in silence to ponder over his attributes. His love is always expressed in action. Besides the act of redemption, there is also the act of creation. We are not created to fulfil his needs. He is self-sufficient; he is utterly fulfilled. We are created so that he can pour into our lives the love that is shared by the intra-triune God. Then there is the act of sustenance. Every day, we are able to experience God’s love through his providence, his provision, his protection and his ever real presence in our lives. We experience his love through the love that his people demonstrate. We experience his love when his Holy Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are his beloved children. We can therefore pray consistently for the Spirit to overwhelm us with his love so that it is not just a mental understanding but a reality that captures our hearts. Like the Psalmist, we should also sing of his love forever and praise him for his awesome deeds, individually and corporately. In praising and thanking him, we reinforce the love that we are already experiencing in him. When we are overwhelmed by God’s love for us, we will naturally respond in love, for him and for others.

True Way must always strive to be a community of love. We may do great things but if we lack love we are nothing. Didn’t the apostle Paul say in 1 Corinthians 13: 1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.’ Dr Tan pointed us to the church in Ephesus where, in Revelation 2, they were complimented for many things  – 2I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned your first love.’ Most of us would understand ‘first love’ as ‘the love we had at first’ but it could also mean ‘abandoning love which should have been first’. This means that if the Church of Ephesus was diligent, it should be for love’s sake; if she was sound, it should be for love’s sake; if she was faithful, it should be for love’s sake. Otherwise, Jesus would come and remove their lampstand from its place. As we do church in True Way, let love be the motivation, the compelling force, the reason why we do what we do. Otherwise, the gathering of people in True Way will not be considered a church! This is a serious warning that we cannot ignore.

Have you wondered why Jesus didn’t simply command us to ‘love your neighbour’ but ‘love your neighbour as yourself’? What is the significance of the phrase ‘as yourself’? We learnt from Dr Tan that the phrase can modify the verb ‘love’ and tell us the manner with which we are to love, i.e. the way we love our neighbour should be the same as the way we love ourselves, e.g. if I buy an ice cream for myself, I should be prepared to buy an ice cream for my neighbour. Alternatively, the phrase ‘as yourself’ can modify the noun ‘neighbour’, thus emphasising identity, i.e. my neighbour is also me; thus when I see my neighbour in need, I see myself in need. And that really creates community.  If my neighbour is also me, I will tend to be more forgiving, more embracing, more patient, more yielding, more forbearing and more loving towards him/her. I will pick less on my neighbour’s shortcomings knowing that the me in my neighbour is also not at all perfect.

My love for others and my love for God are intertwined. The best expression of my love for God is my love for others. May everything we do, individually and as a church, be spurred by our love for God and our love for others. Yet fuelling these two loves is God’s love for us. He has first set the example. This is our greatest motivation and the most compelling force.

Rev Lee Kien Seng

June 19, 2016