In John's first letter of correspondence to the churches, there are some troublesome verses. First John 4:9-10 is not difficult: "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. This is love: not that we love God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." I was trying to think back over my life, and I'm not sure I ever heard those verses quoted except in an application for the gospel. And they certainly do ring of what God has done for us. What I have not heard is how John applies those verses, for John says, "Dear friends, since God so loved us, we ought to love one another." Then he follows that by saying, "No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." I'm not completely sure of what all that means. I know he didn't interrupt this passage to give us some lesson about the invisibility of God. I suppose he is saying that the invisible God is made visible to people through the love that his people have for one another. His love for us prompts our love for others, and that love makes God visible to the world.
When we get the chance, my wife Bonnie and I will live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Lancaster is Amish country. For those of you who come from another culture, the Amish came to our country in the early part of the eighteenth century. They are part of a broader group known as Mennonites. The Amish never wanted to leave the eighteenth century. They liked it. As a result, they don't drive cars; they continue to ride horse and buggy. They don't wear stylish clothes; they all wear dark or black clothes. They're not completely comfortable with electricity, so they often use kerosene lamps and other kinds of lighting for their homes. I mean, they're a breed apart. Every year people come from all over the country to see the Amish. I think many of them think of the Amish in Lancaster County like they do the folks down at Plymouth who dress up like the pilgrims and show you how the pilgrims ate and how they lived. But the Amish are for real. And they are folks of a very simple but contagious faith.
Here's an example of the faith of the Amish: on October 4, 2006, a man who ran a milk route in town, Charles Carl Roberts, went into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Iron Mines community carrying guns. He went into the schoolhouse, sent out the boys, sent out the adults, and tied up ten young women—children. When the police came, Roberts fired eighteen shots, ten of them directly at the heads of those girls. Five of them were immediately killed. One will be on life support for the rest of her years. The other four have healed enough to go back to school, but they will bear the scars of that shooting for the rest of their lives.
What was significant about that horrific event was the way the Amish responded. They did not respond with hate or vengeance; rather, they responded with forgiveness. The families of the victims took their daughters home and laid them out for people to see in all the rawness of what had taken place. But that very afternoon, two of the elders from the Amish community went to the shooter's wife and three children and told them that they were forgiven and that the Amish community held nothing against them.
The Amish community did more than that. They gave Roberts's wife money to take care of the funeral expenses, as well as additional money to take care of the expenses they would have after her husband was buried (after killing the girls, Roberts turned the gun on himself). And when they had the funeral for Charles Carl Roberts, half of the people who attended the funeral came from the Amish community. As you might expect, newspapers from all over the country came to cover the event. Television networks were there to intrude upon the grief of those people. And they did not understand. They kept questioning: Why would the Amish community respond in this way to a murderer who has taken their children's lives? The Amish responded by saying, "Well, it's our way."
On that afternoon and in the days that followed, the invisible God was made visible through the acts of those people who don't ride automobiles or wear stylish clothes. But by their acts of forgiveness and love, they bore witness to the invisible God. A Mennonite scholar at Georgetown was asked to explain why the Amish community forgave Roberts. The scholar said, "The Amish believe that God had told them to forgive. And so they simply acted on what God told them to do. The emotions would follow and they would sort out their grief at another time. But that's their way."
When you read this passage in 1 Corinthians 13 and read what God says we are to be about as we live in love with one another, the question is: How do you do it? And I think the Amish would say, "You just do it. You respond with kindness and patience; you reach out to others. You don't keep a long list of wrongs done against you. You don't do that. And you let the emotions follow."
Love does not delight in evil.
In reading through 1 Corinthians 13 we come to two phrases contained in this verse: "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth." I'm persuaded that when Paul says, "Love does not delight in evil," he's not talking about our delight in the evil that we do. That would be diabolical. I think he's talking about the delight we can have when others do evil. Moffatt captures it in his paraphrase when he says, "Love is not happy when other people go wrong." Every so often you catch an insight into yourself. You realize that it is possible to take delight in other people's failures, to be made glad by someone else's fall. I think that's the essence of gossip: we get together and talk about other people—mostly about their faults or failures. It's a dull evening to spend hours talking about other people's virtues and successes. The question is: Why do we do it?
I think one of the reasons that we delight in other people's failures is that we live by comparing ourselves with others. We feel we're spiritually all right if we're as good as the next guy, maybe a little bit better. And therefore, we fall into the insanity of thinking that if we can pull our neighbor's house down our own house will stand taller. We get some comfort out of that. And that's particularly true if the person who falls is successful, a person who's admired, a person who's a bit of above us.
Benjamin Disraeli, the Prime Minister of Britain in the 19th century, said that the mistakes of the great are the consolation of fools. But we do take consolation in it. Sort of like the Baptist deacon who stood up at the annual meeting to give the report. Things weren't going very well. There were no new conversions. Attendance had fallen by about fifteen percent. Even worse, the offerings had fallen about twenty percent. But after he concluded his report, he said, "At least I can thank God that the Methodists and the Presbyterians aren't doing any better."
We often take consolation in someone else's failure. Doing that is not loving; it is the essence of selfishness. But we live in a culture that tempts us to do that, a culture that majors in looking at other people's failures. Survey the blog world. You'll discover that most blogs focus on what a politician or a celebrity or a preacher has done wrong. They'd soon go out of business if they only talked about what other people did well.
We're in the midst of a political campaign. And rumors are the poison fruit of politics. Rumors are spread about things a candidate said ten to twelve years ago. Already we are told that there's machinery at work to dig up the dirt on those who will be the ultimate candidate. And if we're not careful we can delight in that too. It doesn't become some kind of virtue for us to be glad when we see the failures of our leaders. Apparently, if they live in Washington they become fair game for our mockery. We're tempted to delight in evil.
We watch television and movies. I enjoy television as much as the next person. I find it an interesting way to spend an evening. Because of my nature I have to be careful of it. Take situation comedies, for example. The people who write those comedies (when they are good—that is, funny—comedies) are clever. Then, aided by a soundtrack, you discover that sometimes you're laughing at evil, laughing at the things that the Bible calls sin. And when the Bible talks about sin it's not giving us a list to make earth so miserable we'll be happy when we get to heaven. When the Bible talks about sin, it is talking about a malady of the human race. And to laugh at sin is like laughing at starvation or cancer. Sin is serious business, isn't it? Sin leads to broken dreams, broken homes, and broken lives. They're laughing at sin, and they never tell you that if they had followed that story to the end one of those characters would get AIDS. They don't tell you if they follow it to the end there'll be a baby murdered before it's born. No. We laugh. And sometimes we discover that what we laugh at is what can ennoble us or corrupt us.
Love doesn't do that. When you really care about people as God has cared about you, you do not delight when other people go wrong.
Love rejoices with the truth.
But then Paul flips the coin. He says "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth." That is, love is gladdened by goodness. Love is delighted when truth and goodness prevail, wherever it prevails. You can see that in the life of the apostle Paul. The man who wrote these words to the Corinthians had a heart gladdened by goodness. Ten years after he wrote to the Corinthians Paul was under house arrest in Rome. Those ten years had been tough and hard. He bore in his body the marks of persecution. He knew what it was like to be rejected, rejected by some of the people that he had led to the Savior. And these people had turned on him, and they saw him as an enemy. Now he is in Rome under house arrest, jailed in the third floor of a building, chained to a Roman soldier. He had folks who were encouraged by that. They were godly people. They proclaimed the word of God. But there were others who proclaimed the word and gave out the gospel because they thought it would make Paul's situation worse. Roman authorities would be upset if they heard this message preached that they thought might undermine their power. So Paul wrote in Philippians chapter 1:
Because of my chains most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. It's true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. The latter do so in love knowing I'm put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. Because of that I rejoice.
Think about that. Does it mean that I should rejoice when men and women come to know Christ in an emerging church? Does it mean that I ought to thank God for mega-churches where people who are on the outside are coming to Christ? Does it mean that if somebody becomes a Christian in a Roman Catholic Church that I get upset with that? How dare the Spirit of God do something like that? You know how it goes. Can we rejoice when goodness prevails, when truth advances wherever it's proclaimed? If we love God, we'll love people and we'll rejoice whenever people's interests are served in the gospel. Paul did that. We can do it too.
I try to think about these two phrases—"love does not rejoice when others go wrong" and "love rejoices in the truth." I think I catch a glimpse of that when I think about grandparents. At our age we live with a lot of them, and they love to talk about their grandchildren. Whenever I sit with them they say "Have I ever shown you the pictures of my grandchildren?" You say, "Well, no you haven't. I really appreciate that." But they take out the pictures anyway. They show you all their pictures and tell you about each grandchild. One of them has done very well in the third grade, and another one has been in little league, and another has gotten a scholarship to a very good school. On and on it goes. Sometimes when I am talking to grandparents they have a grandson or granddaughter who has gone off to the far country, bought real estate there, and settled down. They've gone wrong. And then when they're talking about their grandson or granddaughter their voices soften. They don't say it with any glee, any delight. Sometimes they say, "I'd appreciate it if you'd pray for Larry. He seemed to have so much promise." That's the speech of love.
Love is never gladdened when people go wrong—even when those people are criticizers or people in the community who talk down at us. It is always gladdened whenever truth prevails, whenever God shows himself through the love of his people.
May we be people who do not take delight in evil of any sort but we're gladdened by truth wherever it's found.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? ____________________________________________________
Haddon Robinson was a preacher and teacher of preachers all over the world. His last teaching position was as the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.