James 1:12-15: Love is Not Always Lovely
Open your Bible to James 1:12-15, watch this sermon and be prepared to answer honestly to what you love.
We know that love is not always lovely because we know that we are capable of loving the wrong things. It possible for a love to be genuine, and for that love to be for pornography. It is possible for a love to be genuine, and for that love to be for money. These are both real loves and wrong loves.
But this is where unlovely love becomes more complex: not only are we capable of loving the wrong things, but we are also capable of fooling ourselves into thinking we love what we don’t really love. For instance, we might tell ourselves that we love hard work, but our days reflect slothfulness. We might tell ourselves that we love church, but our Sundays reflect sleeping in. It is psychologically and spiritually difficult to live with the shame of loving the wrong things, so we deceive ourselves otherwise.
You can, in this very moment, take a small step towards uncovering the truth of what you truly love. Take one quiet moment and imagine: if an impartial second party observed your last week, audited how you spent your time, wrote it on paper without your interpretation, and somebody else read it: what would they say you love?
That’s probably what you truly love. This is the test I believe that James would have the early churches test themselves with. He had their loves in mind when he wrote this text: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death.”
This text is littered to its edges with the language of love. Look with me, perhaps with a pencil or pen to mark your Bible with at the end of verse 12, James describes Christians as ones who “love” God. In verse 14, we see more language of love: the word “desire.” And more of its language in verse 15, with love making language like “conception” and “birth.” Looking with me, do you notice the golden chain of love language in this text?Now, the shape of the text: it is a tale of two family trees planted by, you guessed it, love. Both trees are planted in the text’s middle. One tree grows up, one tree grows down. The tree that grows upwards is the family tree of eternal life, the tree that grows downwards in the family tree of eternal death. And at the very middle of the text is a question: who planted these trees?
Now, the shape of the text: it is a tale of two family trees planted by, you guessed it, love. Both trees are planted in the text’s middle. One tree grows up, one tree grows down. The tree that grows upwards is the family tree of eternal life, the tree that grows downwards in the family tree of eternal death. And at the very middle of the text is a question: who planted these trees?When sin bears its rotten fruit in our lives, we ask the same question: how did this get here? Who is to blame? James’ writing is a harsh rebuke to the early church for the answer they have begun to pass around: do not say that God is tempting you! Or, for us who wish to hear James’ rebuke in our own vernacular: own your sin! Don’t blame God for your sin!
When sin bears its rotten fruit in our lives, we ask the same question: how did this get here? Who is to blame? James’ writing is a harsh rebuke to the early church for the answer they have begun to pass around: do not say that God is tempting you! Or, for us who wish to hear James’ rebuke in our own vernacular: own your sin! Don’t blame God for your sin!
But if as you read this brief article, you still find within yourself an enduring wish to blame God, let me validate that. If you want pastoral permission, if you want theological permission, if doctrinal permission is what you want for your wish to blame God, let me give it to you: blame God for your love of God.
Look back to your text, and fix your gaze on the family tree of eternal love. It is rooted by love for God and bears fruit like God’s promise, the crown of life, steadfastness, blessedness. And to turn your reading of an article into worship of the living God, let’s ask answer: why are these things, particularly eternal life, promised to those who love God?
The one who loves God has the law of God: The Bible teaches that love is the fulfillment of the law. In other words, love is exhaustively inclusive of everything that the law demands. You can love your neighbor without loving God, you can fear God without loving God, you can think about God without loving God, you can even pray to God without loving God, it is even possible to perform parts of the law without loving God; but it is impossible to love God and not do these things. If you aim at the law of God, you will neither achieve God’s love or God’s law. But if you aim at the love of God, you will be granted God’s love and God’s law.
The one who loves God has the nature of God: God is love. He is not law, he is not obedience, he is not fear, he is not duty. Love those things he may, but his nature is not marked by those things. His nature is marked by love, however, because the trinitarian relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is explosively defined by their love for one another. So, if you love God, it’s because God has used the cross of Christ like a broom to sweep you into the nature of God where you are caught up between the persons of God so that you have fallen in love with the character of God so deeply that you are taking on the nature of God.
The one who loves God has the future of God: Experience testifies to this. The only way to predict your future is by looking at your present loves. Parent friends, if your present love is your parenting more than God, insecurity is in your future. Career friends, if your present love is success more than God, then impatience is in your future. Your church, family, and friends will only feel like obstacles to you because when they make demands on your time, they will feel like a barrier between you and what you love most. But if your present love is God more than anything else, eternal life with him is in your future.
The one who loves God has the gift of God: We love God, we are so exhaustively taught by the scriptures because God first loved us. And your best attempts to pin down the timeline of God’s love for you, and how long it preceded your love for him, will fail you with totality. You will ask yourself questions like, how long before I loved God did God love me? When I was baptized? No. When I first professed faith in Jesus? No. When I was born? No. When I was conceived? No. Some two-thousand years ago when Christ was crucified for me?
The book of Revelation affectionately refers to Christ as the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the earth, and this is a clue into the question of when God first loved us. In other words, even that glorious event of Christ’s cross, even that ferocious history-altering event of two-thousand years past, was not the conception of God’s love for you: it was the definite expression of what God has always been doing for those he loves, sacrificially giving himself. Yes Christians, this means you literally cannot even unravel history as a scroll and point to a plot on the timeline and conclude that’s when God first loved me! Because he chose to love before there was a history.
So, do you love God? In imagining an audit of your last week, did you conclude it would say that I love Jesus!
Blame God for that.