We Are Confident, Not Arrogant
A sermon based on 1 John 3:18-24
Sunday, May 14th, 2017 – Easter 5B (Mothers' Day)
Arthur Herbert doesn't seem like a very cool name, does it? Yet, in the early 80's it seemed like there was no one cooler than Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli, more commonly known simply as Fonzie in the sitcom Happy Days. Played by Henry Winkler, the Fonz had a special charm. He always had a way with the ladies. He could somehow get a car to start or a jukebox to change the tune with a bump of the elbow or a snap of the fingers. And he always appeared cool and confident no matter.
Do you know anyone with confidence like that? Do you have confidence like that? I believe that when people are looking for a date or a mate, an employee or just a friend, that such confidence is magnetic. If someone is always nervously looking down at their feet, afraid to make eye contact as if to say, "I'm kind of a loser," why shouldn't we believe them?
But on the flip side, there's a fine line between confident and arrogant, isn't there? When people are looking for a date or a mate, an employee or just a friend, arrogance repels. If someone comes across as if they know the answer to every question in the world, as if they never would need help from you, and would never listen to a word of correction or suggestion for improvement, well, then why bother? Why waste your time with them since they clearly don't need a relationship with you.
So how do we find that fine line between confidence and arrogance and live in that comfortable, empowering zone? How can we be confident without being arrogant? The answer lies on God's Word. The apostle John was brimming with a confidence that would have put Fonzie to shame. And yet, he never came across as arrogant in what he wrote. And he wants you and me to have that same confidence without arrogance. Our text is found in 1 John 3:18-24…
18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
I am absolutely confident… that you and I have failed God. What does he ask of us in his Word? John keeps coming back to it again and again in his Gospel and all of his epistles. It's a simple concept, though it's not easy. It's simple in that it's not very complex. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out. But it's not easy… in fact, none of us can actually do it. What does God ask of us? Simple: Love. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love one another. Love others just as Jesus has loved you. Love, not "with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
Feeling pretty confident that you've done that? Always? Have you sometimes told your spouse that you love them only to treat them in a pretty loveless way that same day? Have you told your kids that you love them only to snap at them in impatience? Have you told your parents that you love them only to be blatantly disrespectful a few minutes later? That's loving with words and tongue, but not with actions or truth. Have you always loved others more than you love yourself? Have you, "Love[d] the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength"? (Mark 12:30) Or have you told God that you love him only to selfishly ignore what he asks you to do, loving even him with words and tongue but not with actions? Yeah… me too.
You see, there isn't much room for arrogance anymore is there? The test that God through John gives us is simple: Love perfectly all the time. And we all have failed miserably. This, then, is the cure for arrogance: To look again into God's law and see his holy requirements, to hear his demand for perfect love, to examine our hearts and our actions and to see that we have not measured up, to remember how we deserve hell for how loveless we've been to our spouses, our kids, our parents, our friends and our God.
And that realization can leave us feeling pretty shaken. It can leave us feeling pretty insecure about our relationship with God. While the law strips us of any arrogance, it can also rob us of any confidence. But that's not what God wants for us. He wants us to be totally confident that our relationship with him is okay—more than okay! He wants you certain that he loves you with a love that can never fail!
This Mother's Day, are you confident that your mom loves you? Sadly, not everyone can answer "yes," to that question. But even if you have a great mom, and you're totally confident that she loves you, nevertheless, mom's still a sinner too. And there will be times that she will let you down. Every sinner will sooner or later. But… not God. He will never let you down. God promises in Isaiah 49:15, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" And of that you can be totally confident!
How? How can we have such a confidence? Because of the Easter. You see, our status before God has nothing to do with how loveless or loving we've been. But it has everything to do with how loving he's been to us. Jesus, true God in every way, took on human flesh and became a man that he might be under God's law in our place. And he passed the test. He was perfectly loving to everyone all of the time, even when he had to show tough love by calling out their selfishness and loveless sins. He loved God "with all [his] heart and with all [his] soul and with all [his] mind and with all [his] strength." He loved everyone else more than he loved himself. Which is why he willingly took on himself the hell that every person has earned by our loveless sins. And he took them all away.
And Easter is the proof. Jesus didn't stay dead. But he came to live again. That's why John could write that we, "live in him, and he [lives] in [us]… we know that he lives in us…" God gave us his Spirit to reveal these truths to us and to patiently lead us to place our trust or confidence in these truths.
So it doesn't matter how loveless you've been to others or even to God. That's not what determines your standing with God. That's not where your confidence lies. It doesn't matter if you feel forgiven. If you don't, your feelings are wrong! "Whenever our hearts condemn us… God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything." He knows that Jesus lived a perfectly loving life for you! He knows that Jesus paid for every one of your sins! He knows that by the Spirit-worked faith you have, that Jesus lives in you! I am absolutely confident that God has forgiven you! And you can and should have that same confidence yourself.
And by the way, since this confidence we have of God's forgiveness and his never-ending love has absolutely nothing to do with what we have or haven't done, there's still no room for arrogance. This is how we find the perfect balance of absolute confidence without a hint of arrogance. God's law strips us of arrogance. But the Gospel fills us with confidence. So Easter means we are confident, but not arrogant.
And with this total confidence of God's forgiveness and love, we're eager to serve God in thanks for all he's done for us. "We obey his commands and do what pleases him." And the way we thank God and obey his commands is by reflecting his love to others, by "[loving] one another as he commanded us." by loving, not "with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
If you show love to others and serve them selflessly, do you run the risk that they might take advantage of you? Sure. If you clean the kitchen when it's not "your turn," you might risk not just ingratitude but even an expectation that you help our more often. But so what? Confident of God's love, you can humbly serve.
If you lovingly call out the loveless sins of others, you might risk not only upsetting them but even a bigger rift between you as they distance themselves from you who lovingly speaks the truth they don't want to hear. But so what? Confident that God will never leave you, you can speak the truth in love.
If you give generously of your time in service, of your dollars to the offering plate, of your home to host someone in need of hospitality, you will risk not only being inconvenience and not getting what you want, but of never having that time or those dollars back. But so what? Confident that you are rich in Christ with spiritual riches that will outlive this life into eternity, you can generously give your time, dollars, and your very self to show your gratitude to God who loves you without end.
Confident that God will take care of us even when others inevitably let you down, gives us the motive and the strength to love, not just "with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
And if this too seems a challenge instead of a joy, then ask God for his help. You can be confident that he will hear and answer your prayers. "Dear friends, [since] our hearts do not condemn us," (since it is not our hearts, but Easter that assures us we are forgiven), "we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask…" assuming that our greatest desire is to "obey his commands and do what pleases him."