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The War of Love: Embracing Gratitude and Overcoming Selfishness

1 John 4

Paul Tripp explores 1 John 4, emphasizing the battle between love and fear. Tripp explains how God’s perfect love drives out fear, encouraging believers to embrace and reflect this love in their lives. He highlights the transformative power of experiencing and sharing God’s love amidst life’s challenges and spiritual warfare.

The following unedited transcript is provided by Beluga AI.


Just about two years ago, I accepted the invitation to become part of the pastoral staff of Tenth Presbyterian Church, my title being Minister to Center City. And Llewellyn and I knew that would mean eventually a move for us down to the city. We have been trying to get down here ever since. Many of you have been praying about that. Well, this week we sold our home in Mount Airy. We’re thankful to God for that. And we will be moving into a loft in Chinatown on August 15th. Thank you for your prayers.

Continue to pray for us as we make that move. Love is a war. You don’t often hear love and war together in the same sentence, but love is a war. It’s a war of motivation. It’s a war of contradiction. It’s a war of deception. It’s a war of calling. Turn, if you would, in your Bibles to 1 John 4:19-21. I wish I could say that that war no longer rages in my heart, but it does. If you reflect on this week, you will recognize places where love’s war raged in your own heart.

We were on a family vacation this past week. We had rented a home in Ocean City and were so delighted that all of our children could be with us, my two older sons with their wives. My daughter and Darnay flew in from Montana. It was a wonderful, wonderful time. One of the things I like to do when my family is on vacation is to go to the beach. Another thing I like to do when my family is around is cook for my family. I would like to think that that’s because I have a servant’s heart. It’s probably because I just like to cook.

And the final thing that I was going to do was to make cinnamon rolls for my family for the final breakfast. We had to leave about 11 o’clock from the house we were renting in. It’s a bit of a family tradition, the cinnamon rolls. Well, one of my daughter-in-laws woke up and decided she didn’t want to start her day with something that sweet and rejected my cinnamon rolls. I would like to say that that was okay with me, but it wasn’t. Then her husband, in an act of clear disloyalty, offered to make eggs for her.

That man is my son. I wanted not to be nice to her. I wanted to sit across the room and look at her with that look. How could you reject the glory that is my rolls? Love is a war. It doesn’t take much for that war to break out in our hearts.

Let me read for you, beginning with 1 John 4:19:

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19-21, ESV)

Love is a war of motivation. Motivation. True love isn’t just motivated by duty and obligation. True biblical love, that kind of love that we’ve been looking at, that willing self-sacrifice for the good of neighbors, explodes out of a heart of gratitude.

It is when we remember the magnificent love by which we have been loved, the awesome gift of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, when we remember that our lives have been totally transformed, completely altered by a gift of love that we could have never have earned or achieved or deserved, that we have been marvelously and continually and will be eternally loved by God. When that love is the thing that fills our hearts from the first breath in the morning to the last breath when we go to bed at night.

When we live out of that kind of gratitude, we will be people that love. When you walk around during the day and you think, I cannot believe that I have been so loved by God. I cannot believe that I have been so blessed by Him. I cannot believe that my life is full of such bounty. When you recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from above, when your life has been bathed in love, then you will love.

Now it seems like the longer you walk with the Lord, the more you should be amazed by and gripped by that love. The case. You know, when you originally come to Christ, you are just filled with a sense of your neediness and filled with the wonder of His love. And you walk through your life and you say, “I’ve been saved! I’ve been saved! I’ve been saved! I can’t believe it.” But what happens to us often is our Christianity is a migration from neediness, are you hearing me, to self-righteousness. We lose the sense of neediness.

We begin to tell ourselves we’re part of the good people. We got it right. We know what is right. We live what is right. We begin to live with feelings of arrival. Listen, those feelings of arrival are themselves a heresy. Because you and I only ever exist as believers based on the continuing blessings of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that grace we need as much today as we needed it the first day we believed. It is by grace and grace alone that we are kept.

And I would love to pile up a list of all of my wisdom and all of my strength and all of my good deeds and say, what a fine fellow I am. But when I begin to examine the list, there is no independent wisdom. There is no independent strength. There is no righteousness. Everything that I would place on the list is a gift of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And when your heart is filled with that kind of gratitude, when you walk around during the day and you say, I cannot believe the blessing that is mine. I am a child of God. Then you find a light in incarnating that love in the lives of the people who are around you. Love, true biblical love, explodes out of a heart of gratitude. I would ask you this morning, does that gratitude rule your heart? No, not just this morning when you’re singing these beautiful hymns of the love of God.

Does that gratitude grip your heart on Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning and Thursday evening? Is your life marked by gratitude for the love that you have been given? We love because He first loved us. Love, it’s not just a war of motivation. It’s a war of contradiction. Look at verse 20.

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20, ESV)

Whenever I read this passage, I’m hit with the strength of the language that’s here. Let me read it for you again: “Again, if anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

I’m afraid if all of us would be honest this morning, if all of us would scan the actions and reactions and words of our last week or our last month, we would have to recognize that there is this contradiction that exists in all of our lives. We say we love God. We celebrate his love for us. But there is in us irritation and impatience and jealousy and greed and selfishness with respect to the people that God has placed nearest to us. Brothers and sisters, should we not say that gospel contradiction is not okay?

It’s easy to say, “I love God.” Surely, it’s much easier to claim allegiance to a God who I can’t see than it is to live in self-sacrificing love toward the people that we live the nearest to. Remember my vacation week. I was living that week knowing full well I would preach this sermon, and yet the specter of that did not rescue the heart of this man. Now hear this: the words here are very specific; they point us in a very important direction.

I would like to think that the war that goes on in my heart is first a war between love of self and love of others. Brothers and sisters, that’s not the war. The war is a war between love of self, and are you ready for this, love of God. My love problem is not first a second great command problem, my love problem is a first great command problem. The reason I don’t love the people in my life the way that I should is I don’t love God in the way that I claim.

Lord, forgive and rescue me. What do I want in that cinnamon roll moment? I want to be the center of attention. I want a family that says, “We’re blessed to be in your presence, oh dear father. your roles have been and always will be a glory.” Hear this: The center is the one place I must never be, because that place is to be inhabited by God and God alone. There’s the war. The war is that we’re always pushing ourselves toward the center because that’s where we want to be.

And if you’re in the center of your world, rather than serving, you want to be served. It is easy to come here and sing glorious hymns of love. It is hard to love as we have been loved. Brothers and sisters, does that not this morning drive you to your knees to seek once again the grace that can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ? You see, my greatest problem of love exists inside of me and not outside of me. And for that, I need the loving rescue of my Heavenly Father.

Let me read this verse for you again. Verse 20,

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20, ESV)

Love is a war of motivation. It’s a war of contradiction. But it’s also a war of deception. If someone would ask you, what does a mature Christian look like? What would you answer? If someone would ask you, what does it mean? What does it look like to live a life of faith?

What does solid, healthy Christianity look like? How would you answer? I’m afraid there’s a tendency for us to make the same kind of mistake as the man who lost his keys in the parking lot at night. It’s dark, the ground is black macadam, it’s hopeless for him to find his keys, but he notices that there are light posts throughout the parking lot. So he looks for his keys where there’s light. Never finds his keys because he only looks in places that are obvious.

Maybe what we’ve done is we’ve tended to define mature Christianity in the places that are obvious. We say, well, a mature Christian is faithful in his attendance to the services of the church. Of course he is. A mature Christian gives regularly. Of course he does. A mature Christian develops biblical literacy. Well, sure he would. A mature Christian develops theological knowledge. Well, of course he does. A mature Christian gives himself to moments of ministry. Sure he would. But let me warn you with this truth, you can do all of those things and not be a believer.

The problem with those things is not that they’re false standards. If you are serious about your relationship to Christ, you will do all of those. The problem with those things is they’re too obvious. They live in the light. There will be people who did all of those things, and Jesus will say in that final day, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” We need to be warned. Perhaps.

A deeper, firmer, more humbling definition of true biblical faith is found not in those public moments, but found in the private recesses of our lives where who we really are is expressed no longer under the watching eye of others. John would say this to us if you want to know the true quality of your relationship with God, examine the quality of the relationships you have with the people that you live closest to. Because how can we possibly say that we love God when we struggle so to love the people that are nearest to us?

How can you struggle to love that wife that is a gift of God to you while saying that you love God? How can you struggle to be gracious with your husband while saying, I love God? How can you struggle to be patient and kind as a parent of your children while saying, I love God? The true test of biblical faith is this, willing, self-sacrificing love. Why? Because it’s only when this selfish heart has been visited by divine love, when this selfish heart has been transformed by divine love, that you can truly love God.

Transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ that this selfish heart will ever love in the way it is called to love. If you love others as Christ loved you, you do that because grace has visited your soul. I was at the end of a counseling day some years ago at CCEF. I had done about six or seven hours of counseling and I would talk to people for about an hour long and I was able to pull off in that hour being a humble, patient man. I could do that for 55 minutes.

We were in the mid-belt of our parenting four children at home and as I was driving home I was already feeling myself getting uptight, facing the chaos of need that would be there as I opened the door. I was leaving the patient man back there at CCF and already becoming an impatient dad before I’d ever hit the door. I remember that very, very well because I was hit with the difference between my response to those people in those brief moments and what I was feeling as I moved toward the private recesses of my life.

I learned that day, just pulled off the road, stopped, and prayed for a minute, asked for God’s forgiveness, and asked for His help. That is the quality of your relationship with the people next to you. Let us not be deceived. When the love of God rules your heart, you will love others. That’s true faith. Look with me at verse 21,

21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:21, ESV)

I want to end our consideration of love the way that I began some weeks ago.

You may not have been called to be an elder in Christ’s church. You may not have been called to the office of deacon. You may not have been called to be a Sunday school teacher. You may not have been called to be a ministry leader. You may not have been called to be a global partner taking the message of the gospel around the world. But please hear this, you have been called to love. It is the inescapable call on your life.

You have been called to love in that place where God in his sovereignty has positioned you. You have been called to love. It’s an inescapable command to all of God’s children. We live in different places. We live in different circumstances. We live with different people. We’re called to different things. But one place where we share unity of calling is all of us have been called to love. And that call to love is ordained by God to be a powerful apologetic for the truthfulness of the gospel. That love is intended to be evangelistic.

When Jesus was facing His last few moments with His disciples, He prayed that precious prayer that’s in John 17. And He prayed these words, “Father, I pray that these may be one, as we are one, so that the world may know that you sent Me.” Listen, evangelism isn’t just sharing some abstract message of theology. Evangelism is something you do with the very nature of your life. Evangelism is a lifestyle.

And when people who otherwise would be selfish and self-absorbed and self-oriented and competitive and angry and irritable and impatient, when those people live in lasting, peaceful, loving, merciful, gracious community with one another, that is a testimony that God has visited that place in the grace of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dads, when you’re out front with one of your children and your neighbor is watching out the window, and that child is pushing you beyond the normal bounds of your character, and you cry out for help of your Savior, and you choose to respond in patience and grace, you are witnessing the gospel to that person who is watching.

35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV)

Hear that. Hear this. That love gets right to the heart of who God is. God is love.

That love gets right to the heart of who we are meant to be. As birds ought to fly and honey ought to be sweet. People ought to love. We are created for community. That love gets right to the center of the hope of the gospel. What’s the centerpiece of the message of the gospel? It’s a loving sacrifice by an innocent man for people undeserving. And that love gets right to the heart of the claim of the Savior on your life. He has claimed you to be part of a great company of love.

He has claimed for you to incarnate His love. And that love is the most powerful force of transformation in the universe. You have been created and recreated to love. You have been called to represent a God who is love. And what that does for you and for me is it once again reminds us of how deep our need is for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. How much we still need to be rescued from us, and how much we should celebrate that grace that we have been blessed by, and liberated by, and strengthened by.

May we be a people that causes the world to look and say, “I don’t know what these people are about, but I want what they have. Look how they love one another.” Let’s pray.

Lord, how humbling the words are that we have just considered. We see the war of motivation in our hearts. We see the war of contradiction. We see the war of deception. We feel that war of calling. And we would pray once again, won’t you come near to us and love us with the love that you have promised us?

Rescue us, strengthen us, mobilize us, we would pray that we would be a company of great and practical love. We pray these things for the honor of your wonderful Name, Amen.

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