ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH April 26, 2015
Faith, Love, and Action
1 John 3:16-24
We’ve all heard the adage, ‘actions speak louder than words’. There is a scene in the movie Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan, which illustrates how our actions reflect how we are perceived. This scene begins with Bruce Wayne and his lady friends exiting a large hotel restaurant after making a huge scene and swimming in the decorative indoor pond. Bruce is rich and arrogant, or so it seems, and he writes a check for the price of the hotel in order to not be kicked out of the hotel’s restaurant. On his way out, he runs into Rachel, his childhood friend who has some interesting things to say about his actions.
In this scene, it is obvious that Bruce is embarrassed by his actions when he sees his good friend Rachel. He tries to explain himself, but it’s too late. There would be no sweet talking out of this one. His actions had been noted.
“It’s what you do that defines you.” Like it or not, our actions often define or affect the way we are remembered. Sometimes our actions are noble and brave and people look up to us for what we have done, while at other times our actions may be less flattering. We may regret what we have done or said, and feel ashamed and embarrassed. It’s only natural that we have our moments of glory and our moments of failure. We all experience these moments in our lives, but I believe it is what we do the majority of the time that matters. We all slip up from time to time, but our overarching actions are what truly define who we are.
As we go about our lives, we often find ourselves in differing situations that affect the way we feel and act. There are times when we act confident and sure of ourselves, when really, deep down we feel anxious or hesitant. There are times where we show strength and courage when on the inside we are weak and vulnerable. There are times when we appear happy and excited, when really we are down and disheartened. We all experience times like these. We act in a certain or different way for many reasons. Sometimes we ‘put on a brave face’ so as not to bring attention to ourselves, or we do it to offer strength to others who are also hurting. Perhaps we act in a certain way to look good for others because we are afraid we won’t be accepted if we show our ‘true colours’ or feelings. Whatever the reason, when we act in these ways, we are altering our outward appearance for those around us.
We may ‘act’ a certain way when situations arise depending on the circumstance. This does say something about our character and who we are; however, I don’t believe that these are actions that should define who we are. Our actions should represent a truly deeper meaning. We may ‘put on a brave face’, but our true actions should be based on something more. God gives us that foundation in which we are to act. God calls us to action through love. God has shown us what true action is. God’s action of sending Jesus into creation was an incredible act of love. Jesus’ action of dying on the cross was a perfect example of his love for us. The sending of the Holy Spirit amongst us was an act of abounding love. We are able to better understand and comprehend the nature and character of God through these actions. Our Triune God has given us a wonderful example of action and love for us. As Christians, we are called to be people of action, and in this way, our actions are to be centered around love, just as our Heavenly Father has modelled to us, but how do others know us? How do others see us? Are we showing love to those around us?
This morning we read from 1 John 3:16-24. Recently, this has become one of my favourite Biblical passages for two reasons. One it simply sums up how we are to live as Christians, and two it sums up what I believe should be the focus for Christ’s church around the world. In the passage from 1 John, we are called to live the life God wants for us. Verse 23 declares, we are to follow God’s commandment, “…that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has command us.” Simply put, God is calling us to have faith in Christ Jesus and to show love to each other. It sounds like two different things, to have faith and to love each other; however, these are a single gift from God. God has created saving faith in our hearts, which in turn gives us love for others. We cannot have one without the other. For we can’t believe in Jesus, without believing in love, and as I mentioned earlier we cannot love without action. In response to faith and love, we are compelled to act. Through action, we share our love and faith with others. On the surface it is simple, have faith and show love, but in reality we all know it is not an easy commandment to follow.
In verse 16, we are shown the love in which God has for us, as Jesus “…laid down his life for us…” It is an extreme example of love, as one cannot give more than one’s own life. From this example, we can see how much God truly loves us. This is comforting and even humbling, knowing that God loves us in this deep way. If verse 16 stopped with Jesus’ action of love, we may find security in this thought; however, the verse continues, “and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” If that phrase doesn’t wake you up, I don’t know what will! ‘lay down our lives’…It’s one thing that Jesus gave up his life 2000 years ago for us through love but God also calls his children to lay down their lives for others?
In our world today, the phrase “lay down our lives” has come to mean an extraordinary self-sacrifice. Primarily we hear or read this expression in the news as it describes the sacrifice of a soldier on the battlefield, or killed on duty. Other times we hear this phrase describing emergency personnel who die while trying to rescue a victim or victims from dangerous situations. To lay down one’s life, may even be used to describe someone who died while performing a heroic feat, like standing up to a gunman in a school, or protecting an individual from harm. In all these cases, it is a great or risky action. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think if I had too, I would stand up and be a hero if I encountered a scenario like this, but I can’t be certain. Thankfully, this text is not about dying for others. It is not about heroic or extreme actions in the way these other events describe. In fact, God is calling us to be the exact opposite. God calls his believers to be ordinary, not looking for the big heroic event, but laying down our lives every day. As Christians, we are called to lay down our lives for others.
Through faith and love, we are called into action to lay down our lives for those around us. We are called to put others first, to live for the good of others, and to make time for others. It is through this showing of love that we are called into action. As Christians, we do not have a good excuse for not laying down our lives for those around us. Regardless of our social or economic status, we all are rich in that we know God. Despite our age, gender, abilities, commitments, employment, etc. God has given us all so much, and in this way, God challenges us. Because we are blessed, we are to show our love to others. We are called to share with others what we have. We cannot claim to have the love of Christ in us, if we fail to share what Gods has given to us. This is a poignant statement, but yet in verse 17 we read, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”
For some Christians, and perhaps even some here, who feel called to help victims in places of violence and bloodshed, our physical lives may indeed be at risk; however, for the majority of us we are called to lay down our lives, to those who are close to us. Instead of risking our physical lives for others, we are called to help and serve.
In our world, there are so many in need. Global poverty is overwhelming. The countless millions of people who are displaced from their homes because of famines, droughts, and wars, those who suffer violence, abuse and oppression. These people are in genuine need. Their wants are real and finding solutions to their problems and giving aide to them is important; however, in this passage John is not speaking about the poor as a collective or in general. The NRSV translates those in need, as brothers and sisters, meaning people that are close, and before us at the moment. We are called by God to have faith and show our love to those who are nearby. Those we know who are in need. Those we know who are hurting. This could mean people in our own family. We may know people within this congregation. It might be friends who are seeking help or friends of friends, or those in our community. The number of people who are in need is never ending, but if we look to show love through faith in Jesus Christ, then our actions will make a difference one person and one situation at a time.
As Christians, we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, and through our salvation, we become more like Christ. In receiving God’s gift of faith and love, we are called to share this love with those around us. It is through our actions that others will see Christ, as Jesus is found in our acts of love. In a world that is in desperate need for love, what more can we do than to share God’s love with one another? God has blessed us, so let us look to share God’s love with our family, friends, and neighbours who are in need. If “it’s what you do that defines you” then don’t we want to be defined as loving Christian people? Amen.