Teaching series from 1 John

Increasing Your Capacity to Give God's Love

1 John 4:7-21

Teaching t10388

Introduction

Last week, we began a 2-part series on 4:7-21, in which John tells us that God’s purpose for our lives is that we be “perfected in love”—become mature and proficient at loving other people in the same way that Jesus loves us.

We saw that this involves 2 parts: increasing our capacity to receive God’s love (4:16,17 - LAST WEEK) and increasing our capacity & proficiency in giving God’s love away to others (4:11,12 – THIS WEEK).  We likened this to breathing—we learn to increase our spiritual lung capacity by breathing God’s love into our souls and by breathing his love out to the people he has put in our lives.

Both aspects of being perfected in love are initially counter-intuitive—they seem backwards, contrary to common sense, even foolish.  But this is because our thinking is backwards, and we have to be willing to trust what God says rather than what seems right to us.  When we trust God on this, his ways become increasingly sensible and intuitive to us over time. 

We intuitively want to receive love from tangible people (or other worldly idols) rather than from an invisible God who wants us to trust him OR we want to earn God’s love rather than “consent to be loved while realizing all the more our unworthiness.” But we need to allow God to indwell us with his love (EXLAIN HOW), and then continually draw upon his love.

And we intuitively want to hoard love for ourselves rather than give it away.  Like a novice SCUBA diver, we intuitive want to hold our breath rather than exhale, trusting that as we do so more oxygen/love will be available to us.

This week we will focus on increasing our capacity to give God’s love to others.  Learning to become an expert love-giver is a high art—and like any higher order skill, it requires real attention and effort and practice.  But God doesn’t just throw the instruction manual at you and say, “Here—you’re on your own!”  Rather, he delights in being your personal trainer (read 1Thess.4:9).  As you trust his wisdom and good intent and cooperate with his training, he will develop you into the unique and expert love-giver that he designed you to be.  This morning, I want to introduce you with some of the specific ways he trains you—so you can recognize his hand and cooperate with him.

God trains us through the Bible

As I said last week, the Bible is God’s love letter to you.  So as you read it, ask God, “What are you teaching me about how you love me?”  But since we are to love others in the same way that God loves us, we should also ask, “What are you teaching me about how to love others?” 

As you read in this way, he will teach you the multi-faceted nature of real love looks like vs. worldly counterfeits (4 ASPECTS: sacrificial choice vs. feelings-based, YET emotional vs. functional or your love language only; forgiving vs. writing off, YET disciplinary vs. soft sentiment).  God teaches us this both through didactic passages (like 1Cor.13), but also through his dealings with real people—and supremely through Jesus (Gethsemane decision to go to the cross; weeping over Lazarus; to Peter after denial in Jn.21; rebuke to Peter in Matt.16).

As you read with this question in mind, God will often draw your attention to those areas of love that he is presently developing in you (RECENT EXAMPLE).  In other words, the Bible provides the context and vocabulary by which we hear God’s promptings...

God trains us through personal promptings

This is one of my favorite forms of God’s personalized training program.  God’s Spirit will lead his children (Rom.8:14) to take a very specific step to show his love to someone, because he knows that this is what the other person needs at this time.  This is usually a little scary on the front end—but if you obey his prompting, it is exciting because you often see why he led you to this!  Acts 8:26-31 describes one of these promptings (EXPLAIN).

I usually get these promptings to encourage a brother or sister in Christ (EXAMPLE), be generous (EXAMPLE), or share God’s love in some specific way to someone who doesn’t yet know him (EXAMPLE; RECOMMEND HYBELS’ DVD).  Even though they often seem strange at the time, they are consistent with God’s Word and they obviously don’t come from Satan or my sin-nature!

I also find that God’s promptings usually come to me as I am praying and/or in his Word.  I also find that the more I obey God when he prompts me, the more promptings I get (or recognize).

This is one of the ways God shows us how exciting and pleasing it is to give his love away to others.  Have you asked God to prompt you in this way lately?  Are you spending quality time with him in prayer and biblical meditation?  How have you responded when he answered your prayer?

God trains us through models

God also trains us by providing human models that exemplify his love in ways that illuminate and inspire us.  Paul tells us to take full advantage of these by models (read Phil.3:17).

They will often exemplify an area of love in which you are deficient and even devalue.  God speaks through them to show you the importance of this aspect of love, and to inspire you to grow in that area (EXAMPLE).

As you watch their self-giving way of life and see their true happiness (in spite of disappointments, trials, etc.), God motivates you to sell out to this same way of life.  This is one of the highest compliments anyone can pay you!

Are you close enough to models like these that you can benefit from God’s training through them?  This is one of the most important reasons to be involved in a HOME GROUP...

God trains us through “difficult people”

“Difficult people” refers to people who you don’t want to be around but can’t avoid (i.e., AT WORK; NEIGHBOR; IN-LAW), or to loved ones whose sins drive you up the wall (i.e., SPOUSE’S IDIOSYNCRASY; TEEN CHILDREN’S ISSUES; CHRISTIAN FRIEND’S BESETTING SINS).  Of course, we sometimes need to set boundaries and/or take disciplinary action.  But when this isn’t possible or appropriate (which is most of the time), we need to realize that God is often at work through such people (as he is through all difficulties—see Rom.5:3,4) to perfect us in love. 

We feel like we would be better off if we could get away from them or at least control their problems.  But through them, God gives us special training in areas of love deficiency (EXAMPLE). 

We feel like they are obstructing God’s plan for our lives, be he works sovereignly through even their painful wounds to advance his redemptive plan (Gen. 50:20).

What is your goal—to be treated well/unbothered, or to be perfected in love?  Who are your present “difficult people?”  What love lessons is God trying to teach you through them?  How are you responding?

God trains us by rewarding us with joy

Good athletic trainers know that training is difficult—so they know how to make it fun, point out progress, etc.  God has his own special ways of rewarding us as we make progress in loving others.  He calls it joy (read Jn.15:9-11).

Sometimes he exhilarates us with stabs of awe when we follow his prompting to love someone—and then see how he works through us (Acts 2:43).  Sometimes he comforts us and strengthens us in the midst of pain and weariness to enable us to go on loving people (2 Thess. 2:16,17).  Sometimes he gives us moments of deep satisfaction as we see reflect on how God has worked through our love to transform people in deep ways (3 Jn. 1:4).

He knows exactly when we need to be rewarded, what kind of reward we need, and how to get it to us.  This is a big part of the adventure of being perfected in love that makes it so addicting (in the healthy sense).  And all of this is just the foretaste of the ultimate and eternal joy we will experience when we are in his presence.

FOR DISCUSSION: How have you recently experienced God’s personalized training in loving others?