1 John 3:1-2 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Taylor Swift – known to some of her fans only as T Swizzle – is a phenomenon in the music industry. Yeah, sure, for her success, but also for her vulnerability and transparency in her lyrics even about matters that are intensely personal to her. Just think of what she said on her album 1989. She said, “I stay up too late, got nothing in my brain. That’s what people say.... I go on too many dates, but I can’t make’em stay. At least, that’s what people say.” Here’s a woman whose career just when you think it’s leveling off continues to rocket upward. Here’s a woman who has property in New York, L.A., Rhode Island, and Nashville with a rented apartment in London. Here’s a woman who is the envy of millions and living the life, who apparently feels the sting of her critics so deeply that she wrote poetry, composed music, and sang to herself, “shake it off,” just so she could find some measure of peace. That’s intensely and publicly personal.
And, no, she didn’t just write that for her. Part of Taylor’s brilliance is that she knows what speaks to people. It’s not just her who wants and needs to feel worthwhile and struggles when others think she isn’t. It’s us too. That’s why her song mattered to so many people. Millions and millions and millions of them. And before you say, “Yeah, teenage girls loved it.” Know this. So many adults loved Shake it off that Saturday Night Live even parodied what it was like for them to find out it was Taylor’s song. They even coined the term Taylor Swift Onset Vertigo for what happened when they found out it was her. Now we can joke about that (And we probably should!), but what that illustrates is that we all carry around an invisible suitcase. And sometimes what gets packed in there is the idea, “I am worthless,” and we desperately want to – forgive me for borrowing Taylor’s language – to shake that off.
John wants that too. Just as desperately as we do. He understands that there are many voices that try to assign value to us. There are our critics, our husbands, our friends, our bosses, our subordinates, and, of course, ourselves. So many, many voices that call to us and say, “I think you’re awesome,” or, “I think you’re the scum of the earth,” or perhaps something somewhere in between. To all of those daily, loud voices John here adds another formerly unheard voice that’s also calling us something and also assigning us value. He adds the voice of God which says, “I want you to know the kind of value that I assign to you.” In doing so, he bursts onto the scene announcing a kind of value that surprises him just as much as it does everyone else, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we are called children of God!” (v. 1)
Which is just so incredibly surprising. At least, John thinks so. That’s why he started the sentence the way he did. He said, “See!” Which is really an exclamation or a show stopper. It’s the kind of word where you’re reading along and you see it and you’re supposed think, “This is a big deal. This is huge. This is a mental stop sign. I’m supposed to slow down and really look at what the author is going to say next.” And then he immediately classifies this love. The classification of this love is translated here as, “what great,” love, which isn’t a bad translation at all, but I also want you to know something else about this classification. The translation can’t quite catch it. The word here is talking about a love that’s so great, so different, and so inexplicable that it’s actually quite foreign to us. It’s an alien and totally other worldly kind of love. You might even say it’s a heavenly love. That’s how great and different and awesome this love is that comes and calls us God’s children. That’s what John so desperately wants us to see.
You want to know why? I remember being a kid growing up in Minnesota. When it wasn’t too cold yet, we’d grab a kickball and we’d head outside to the field. And we’d stand there in a large group. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I remember feeling just a touch of nerves. Looking back at it was pretty irrational because I was tall and fast and I could kick the ball a nice little way, but I’d stand there with nerves as two of my classmates would pick the teams. And even though I was never picked last, every time it happened I was afraid I would be. Because in my little kid heart, I knew that on the playground I was being assigned a value and that value mattered to me. And that’s nothing. It’s nothing compared to what I know is out there in terms of how you’ve seen others value you. I know about dads that have checked out – dads that have told you with their actions that you don’t really matter. I know about moms that have left. They’ve treated you like you’re no better than litter to be left on the side of the road. I know there are others of you who have been treated as an object for another’s gratification – like you’re worse than nothing.
I also know what the worst critic of all can be. You of yourself. I’ve heard it said before, “You are the biggest influence in your life because you talk to yourself more than anyone else.” Finally, it’s how we talk to ourselves about ourselves that can harm us the most. And we all know we can be our own worst critics. I thought about that recently when I saw a sign in a cute little shop. The sign read, “I want to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.” Because it couldn’t read, “I want to be the kind of person I think I am.” That’s just too dangerous. Because while a dog doesn’t calculate our morality or our looks or our performance and then base its love and loyalty on its evaluation, we do that to ourselves. And scarier yet, the God we find in the law does too. That’s why all the things we tell ourselves don’t work. T Swizzle can say, “Shake it off,” all she wants, but it doesn’t really work. Not really. Because we know better. If my wife tells me, “You’re not a great husband.” I can’t truthfully deny it. If my dad tells me I’m not worthwhile to be around it stings so deeply because I sense he’s right. You know what the deep and abiding truth is about me? Because of my sin, I am in and of myself devoid of any real worth.
That’s a truth that John got. All too well. It’s also why he knew it was so unearthly, so alien, so different, and so incredibly surprising to find out that despite that truth, God made his voice known to us in the gospel and called us children. Now we need to notice something about that. You ready for it? That’s something that we’re called. I know you all love it when I occasionally get grammatical on you. And I don’t want to disappoint you in this sermon by failing to point out that this is a passive voice verb. In other words, the calling that’s being done is not done by you. It comes from outside of you and calls you who are you. That’s so important to understand. It’s not our right. It’s not our call or our voice that gets to assign us value. It can’t be and it won’t be. We’re called something. We’re assigned value by something or someone outside of us.
I suppose we logically get that on some level. I think we’d all agree that if a box of macaroni and cheese was sitting there on Kroger’s shelf that it would be sort of ridiculous for that box to assign itself a price tag. What does a box of mac and cheese know? It doesn’t know market trends in other stores. It doesn’t know how much or how little we like to eat it. What does a box of mac and cheese really know about itself? Not only does it lack sufficient knowledge to give itself a price tag, it also lacks sufficient authority. How ridiculous for a box of mac and cheese to say, “Hey guy who made me, this is how much I should be worth to you.” That’s never how it works. It’s always the maker of the mac and cheese that assigns a value to what he has made. On some level, we logically get that.
That’s so important to notice and to digest and to take to heart. We are assigned a value. We are called. That’s a passive voice verb and a passive voice verb for a reason. We don’t have the knowledge much less the authority to call ourselves much of anything. We only tell ourselves tales and do ourselves damage when we attempt to do so. And furthermore – if I may – not only are we wrongheaded and harmful to assign value to ourselves, others are wrongheaded and harmful when they do it to us. Nobody here has the knowledge or the authority that’s required to tell us who we are or how much we’re worth. Nobody. That is the prerogative of God and God alone. Only our Maker has the knowledge and the authority to tell us what we’re worth. Amen. Case closed. That’s how it works.
And he has. God has spoken and given his answer. You know what it is? Jesus. If you want to know what you’re worth. Look at him and be amazed. Watch him come down from heaven. Watch him at just the right time enter human history in the womb of Mary. Watch him live the perfect life. Not just as a model. Not just as an example, but primarily as a gift and a sacrifice. Watch him offer it for you. Watch him die. If you want to know what you’re worth, look up at his cross and know your value – see your ultimate worth. Jesus is what God has to say about you. Jesus is what you’re worth to him. Think about that. The only being in the universe who has both the knowledge and the authority to tell you what you’re worth has told you and his name is Jesus.
Nobody else gets to tell you what you’re worth. Nobody else gets to assign you value. Least of all you. That’s why John goes on from his earth shaking statement the way he does. He said, “We are called children of God! And that is what we are!” (v. 1) Did you notice that John felt like he had to affirm this? Did you notice he felt like he had to speak the gospel truth and then go on and say, “Seriously, that’s what we are,”? And if you did notice it, have you ever thought about why John felt like he needed to add that – why people who have been called by God’s voice in the gospel need to be affirmed all over again? Because what’s objectively true – God’s voice – doesn’t always feel subjectively true in here.
Let me explain. It’s seriously all well and good to feel saved. We like that. We appreciate that. I’m not trying to downplay that in any way shape or form. It’s definitely a grace from God to feel saved. It’s amazing when the gospel creates in us a profound sense of wellbeing – when we know and actually sense how perfectly Jesus has restored us to God. We like that. We appreciate that. We pray for more of that. But it’s also important to understand that our subjective experience – how we feel – does not have the authority or right to tell us if we’re valued or not. If it did, then Christianity would no better than a lifelong emotional roller coaster ride where we feel saved and then we don’t. Finally, we can thankfully know that our feelings lack the ultimate authority that’s needed to assign us value. That’s why God has given us one, objective, crystal-clear voice in the gospel that tells us, “I’m worth Jesus.” I’m called God’s child.
That’s the only system that going to consistently help us value ourselves correctly. Sure, maybe for a minute or two we can try T Swizzle’s way and shake it off. Sure, maybe it works to put on our duck feathers and suppress the nasty comments and move on with our day. That can work for a time, but the only way to deal with all the different voices in us and around us that try to assign value to us is to silence all but one. And then let the final, ultimate voice of God speak to our souls his truth. That is the way that we will discover our value as it really is. That is the way that we will discover the truth about who we really are. And that the only proper way to deal with any other voice, or person, or even our personal feelings, which try to assign us an untruthful worth. After all, what box of mac and cheese gets to tell the other boxes of mac and cheese what they’re worth?
There is a gorgeous and life changing application for you in all of this. Do you see it yet? Unpack your invisible suitcase with me. If you’re a person who sometimes lets your retirement give you feelings of worthlessness. If your checkered past slams you with guilt. If you had a husband who dedicated himself to showing you your worthlessness. If you had a dad who checked out or a mother who tossed you to the side. If you have depression and your depression attempts to override what the Scriptures have to say about you. If you have co-workers or even had somebody at a church show you what they really thought of you. If you have any voice at all in your life that tells you that you’re not worthy, then it’s time to unpack your invisible suitcase. And here’s how: whenever that voice pipes up next saying, “You are unworthy.” Instead of believing it, silence all other voices and listen to what God has said about you with all his divine authority. Look at Jesus – his life and work – and then and only then say to yourself, “No, I’m worth him. I’m called God’s child.” And you know what the truth is? You actually are. Amen.