The Labor of Love

Text: 1 John 3: 11-24

Proposition: The labor of love does the ongoing work of sanctification and transformation in us necessary to conform us to Christ.

Introduction: Louie Mattar, it’s certainly a name I had never heard until I saw what he had built. Just after the second world war ended and for the next 7 years Louie gave every spare moment to a project that would cost over $75000. He wanted to drive non-stop from California to New York and then straight back to California, 6,320 miles. So he bought a 1947 Cadillac and for 5 years rebuilt it for this trip. When he was finished the car weighed 8500 pounds, held 230 gallons of gas, 15 gallons of oil and 30 gallons of water. Non-stop meant just that, no physical stopping not even for bathroom breaks, there was a toilet in the back; not for fuel, they refueled at three different airports that were beside the route driving down the run way as a fuel truck drove next to them. There was a fridge, a stove, an ironing board and even a nation-wide mobile phone. They did oil changes as they drove, they could even change tires as they drove. From September 20 to September 27, 1952 Louis and two friends drove in five hour shifts, day and night until they ended up back in San Diego. Two years later that labor of love continued as they drove the same car from Anchorage Alaska to Mexico City from August 10 to the 28, 1954. The preparation, the planning and the trip itself were all a labor of love. Perhaps that’s the point, in order to go the distance there is required first of all a love that’s willing to labor in order to see the trip completed. As extraordinary as that story about Louis Mattar is, even more extraordinary is the labor of love that fascinated the Apostle John. Listen to what he wrote in 1 John 3:11-24.

I. From the Beginning It Was a Labor of Love.

In verse 11 John says, “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…”. When John says ‘from the beginning’ we think he must be referring to all that has been taught in their church, all they have heard since they were first Christians. Then again maybe he’s referring to the fact that Jesus taught this when He was preparing the disciples for what was to come. In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” But then look at what John writes next in 1 John 3:12. He references Cain and Abel, the first two sons of Adam and Eve. What John is doing is contrasting hatred and the source of it in evil, with the righteous response that originates out of love. He even goes on to say that the pattern of evil that killed Abel is still at work in the world today in its opposition to Christ and those that are His. So don’t be surprised by that, don’t marvel at the extent of the designs of evil instead  look at what love is designed to overcome. The disobedience of Cain came from a lack of faith in what God desired as the way. It came from a pride that was competitive with Abel, it came from a bitterness, a deep seated discontent that he  would not repent of, it came from not listening to God’s warning about sin crouching at the door and that Cain must master it or it will master him. From the beginning these are the same elements in every person that gives into a pride and disobedience that culminates in hatred. It continually leads to death, death of heart and then soul and then body.  Look at verse 14, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.” From the beginning love has been on God’s drafting table. It has been a labor of love that demands preparation and planning if it is to go the distance and even further. By the labor of love, and it is labor because it does not come naturally, it requires faith and work, we can overcome death as we love one another in Christ. From the beginning you have been a labor of love to God. He has taken bent and twisted steel from the wreckage of your life and He has melted it, forged it, cast it and rebuilt it into a born-again life that has overcome death by eternal life.

II. The Labor of Love Is That It Lays Things Down, It Surrenders to God.

There are a number of 3:16’s in the Bible, Malachi 3:16, John 3:16, 1 Timothy 3:16, 2 Timothy 3:16 and now we come to 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” The template for the labor of love is the cross of Christ. It was planned before the foundation of the world, it was spoken of in prophecy for 4000 years, it was designed with the perfection of the propitiation of the Son of God. It was laden with fuel and water and oil for the distance needed. The body of Christ was prepared even before the womb, the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.” (Heb 10:5) It was in Gethsemane that we remember the will to lay down was shown, ‘Not My will but Thine.’ It was before Pilate that He stood, laying down any words of defense, fulfilling prophecy, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” (Isa. 53:7) He was nailed to the cross, pierced for our transgressions, numbered among two common criminals at His death, made a public ridicule. The point could be made again and again, the labor of love that is our template is Jesus Christ laying down His life. Make no mistake that it was a labor for as much of a horror as the cross was, the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21 were an even greater weight. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This labor of love was done in a surrender to the Father, an agreeing surrender, a willing surrender, a surrender that was called a joy in Hebrews 12:2, “…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” It is by this, all of what has just been said, that we know love. If Christ had not loved us our love for Him and indeed for each other would not have been ignited. 

So what are we to ‘lay down’ that could even be a small response to Jesus? Was it Nate Saint who said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot loose.’ To give what you might ask? We know that John has already said that we should lay down our lives for the brethren. We know that in the next verse he asks, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”  The labor of love is to see your brother or sisters need and then to open up your heart to them in that. It’s your life that you use to be a labor of love. The wealth your life has generated, the skills your life has acquired, the time left in your life and the faith in God that governs just whose life it is. The point is simple, to lay down your life as a labor of love will demand action and integrity. Look at verse 18, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” If you WILL to love like this then God will enable you. Let me just briefly count the ways that God will enable you to love in a great variety of ways.

  1. God knows what your concerns are. Verse 20, “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.”
  2. You have the ability to trust God with a vision that risks. Verse 21 “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.”
  3. Let your prayer life be directed by your love for Christ and the brethren, do what is pleasing in His sight. Verse 22 “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
  4. Abide in Christ and He in you, it’s how you will believe on Him and love one another. Verses 24 “ Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”

So what is the conclusion of all this, where does it ultimately take us? The labor of love is what God uses to do the ongoing work of sanctification and transformation in us necessary to conform us to Christ. In your life laid down God glorifies the Son.

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