What’s Love Got to do With It?

(Please read 1 John 3:11-20 in your Bible.  I quote from the NIV.)

God has given us all we need to love one another.

A mild-mannered man was tired of being bossed around by his wife so he went to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist said he needed to build his self-esteem, and so gave him a book on assertiveness, which he read on the way home.

He had finished the book by the time he reached his house.  The man stormed into the house and walked up to his wife.  Pointing a finger in her face, he said, “From now on, I want you to know that I am the man of this house, and my word is law! I want you to prepare me a gourmet meal tonight, and when I’m finished eating my meal, I expect a sumptuous dessert afterward. Then, after dinner, you’re going to draw me my bath so I can relax. And when I’m finished with my bath, guess who’s going to dress me and comb my hair?”

“The funeral director,” said his wife.

This is obviously not what God had in mind when he called us to love one another.  Neither of the married people in this joke serve as an example of godly love, do they?

<Retrieved from http://www.cleanjoke.com/humor/Male-Assertiveness.html on 1/22/15.>

  1. Love has been God’s message all along. (11)

THE MESSAGE YOU HAVE HEARD FROM THE BEGINNING has already been used four times.  The writer – who identifies himself as “the Elder” – is writing to churches that have been split over doctrines introduced by false teachers.  Part of pulling them back to together is pulling them back to the truth already revealed.

This is not a matter of “old vs. new” as is so often the case in churches, but a matter of “true vs. false.”  It is one case where the traditional and original were also the right things.  That is not always the case.

Also, LOVE is the thing that will heal the rupture.  That is why he wrote YOU SHOULD LOVE ONE ANOTHER.  Love forgives, unites and restores.  It creates and mends and grows relationships.  To mend the churches, it was necessary to get doctrines right and confront the false teachers, but it was necessary to first LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

  1. Love keeps us from repeating Cain’s sin. (12)

It turns out sibling rivalry is as old as siblings!  The first two children of Adam & Eve were sons Cain and Abel.  Problems flared up when God accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s.  Cain was jealous and murdered his brother.

The Elder offers Cain as an example of what happens when we have no love in our hearts.  He explained why the first murder occurred:

– Cain BELONGED TO THE EVIL ONE.

– HIS OWN ACTIONS WERE EVIL AND HIS BROTHER’S WERE RIGHTEOUS.

We can call Cain a “negative example;” someone who’s actions we are NOT to duplicate.  One point made over and over in these letters is that claims to love God and/or one another are proven or disproven by our actions.  While we may never hate someone to the degree that we murder them (by the way, the word MURDER here has unusually strong emotional content, referring to a graphically violent, gory death), to hate is the moral equivalent of that kind of murder.  (See Matthew 5:21-22.)

  1. We must love because we need each other. (13)

The ferocity of anger and hatred in the world can be a SURPRISE to someone who has the love of God in their heart and has not experienced that depth of negative emotion (Cain’s murderous level of hatred).  The other way they might’ve been surprised was to find that behind a façade of love, behind hypocritical teaching, there existed such hatred.

The Elder wrote to help them avoid surprise – being caught unaware – so that they might be prepared and not deceived.  Jesus taught that FALSE PROPHETS can be recognized by their BAD FRUIT (see Matthew 7:15-19).  If the WORLD hates us, then we clearly need to rely on one another to survive with our faith intact.

  1. Love promotes life. (14)

Every use of the word WE in v. 14 is intended as a reference to the Church and stands in contrast to THE WORLD mentioned in v. 13.

– WE KNOW, but according to 3:1, THE WORLD DOES NOT KNOW.

– WE LOVE OUR BROTHERS, but according to 3:13, THE WORLD hates them.

– WE HAVE PASSED ON FROM DEATH TO LIFE, but those who do not love remain in DEATH.

Every believer wants to be assured they are saved.  Verse 14 offers one source of assurance: LOVE for other believers gives evidence to a true, saving faith.

  1. Lacking love leads to death. (15)

On the opposite side, hatred and the lack of love are symptoms of ungodliness that ends in eternal death.  This, in spite of all outward appearances, is the truth: ANYONE WHO HATES HIS BROTHER IS A MURDERER; he is as guilty as Cain.

The outcome of an unloving life is hell, not heaven: NO MURDERER HAS ETERNAL LIFE IN HIM.  This is an oft-repeated theme of the letters of John: A lack of love betrays a heart that is not true to God.  A lack of love makes clear to man what was already clear to God: the faith is false.

Dr. Tom Johnson commented on this verse: “[The false teachers] are not Christians, and, in the author’s view, they never were (2:19).” (Dr. Thomas F. Johnson, New International Biblical Commentary, 1, 2, and 3 John, Hendrickson Publishers, 1993, p. 83.)

  1. Following Jesus requires loving others. (16)

This verse gives us the ultimate example of love: JESUS CHRIST LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR US.  LAID DOWN = stresses that Jesus gave His life willingly, just as He said in John 10:17-18.  This was the most unselfish act in all of human history; the most undeserved death ever known.

It is the example true believers follow: WE OUGHT TO LAY DOWN OUR LIVES FOR OUR BROTHERS.  Obviously, giving up your life is the biggest sacrifice any of us can offer.  But we follow Jesus’ example in the thousands of small decisions we make every week; the instant decisions to sacrifice self-interest and our “rights” for the sake of someone else.  Following Jesus’ example in the ordinary moments of life is not easy; evil influences and bad habits tend to get in the way.  But it is true love.

  1. Love is demonstrated, not just declared. (17-18)

The Elder advances his argument by offering a “What if…” situation: “What if a rich person sees and needy brother and does nothing to help him?  Is that love?”  The Greek word for MATERIAL POSSESSIONS literally means, “the life of the world.”  The man in this hypothetical situation has the means to help.  The Greek word for SEES could also be translated as “stares” or “gazes.”  He knows beyond a shadow of a doubt all need exists. The rich person literally has no excuse for not helping.  It is simply his choice to be pitiless.  What that tiny decision reveals is a loveless character, a life centered on self, not Jesus.

In verse 18 he expands on the example with a principle.  Love is expressed in WORDS and TONGUE, but not in those things only.  That’s just lip service.  True love is expressed in ACTIONS and TRUTH.

– By ACTIONS he means acts of sacrifice voluntarily, graciously, and happily undertaken.

– By TRUTH he means acts that are in conformity with what God has revealed as His will and for the spiritual maturity of the other person(s).

  1. Love is comforting as it proves our faith. (19-20)

In verse 14 we got assurance of salvation and here we have it again; love is how we know our faith is true: WE KNOW THAT WE BELONG TO THE TRUTH AND HOW WE SET OUR HEARTS AT REST IN HIS PRESENCE.  Dr. Tom Johnson wrote, “Assurance is not a matter of convincing ourselves or of thinking positively; it is knowing the truth before God, or with God as our witness!”  (Johnson, p. 88, emphasis his.)

Whether its false guilt sent by the enemy or guilt we ought to feel because we’ve done wrong, we can put that guilt away WHENEVER OUR HEARTS CONDEMN US.  We do this by looking at the general direction of our lives, the way our character is developing.  We tend to get hung up on the little things, so God redirects our focus to the big picture.

We can trust God to know the truth.  He is GREATER THAN OUR HEARTS, so when we despair, He knows better.  When we feel like a failure, He knows our true situation.  This is true and God is trustworthy because HE KNOWS EVERYTHING.  When we trust Him with our lives, we can be assured of our safety. Loving people can be assured of their salvation and agree with the Apostle Paul; THERE IS THEREFORE NO CONDEMNATION FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS (Romans 8:1).  Only those who are pretending to love need to feel any fear about God’s perfect knowledge of their hearts.

            (Newser) – “In 2013, Smithsonian told a fascinating story: the tale of a family of six who lived deep in the Siberian wilderness for 40 years with zero contact from other humans—and no awareness of WWII—until geologists found them in 1978. Now, the last surviving member of that family has emerged from the wilderness using an emergency satellite phone to ask for help with leg pain. Agafia Lykova, 70, was airlifted to a hospital in Tashtagol.

“The youngest of four, Lykova was born in 1945 to parents who were Old Believers, a sect that broke from the Russian Orthodox church in the 17th century. Her father, Karp, fled with his wife and then two children in 1936, and they built an existence two-weeks’ trek from the nearest hamlet, using what little was available—mushrooms, potatoes, a spinning wheel they’d lugged all the way there.

“Geologists stumbled upon the family’s outpost when Lykova was in her 30s, and people began to send provisions she’d never seen, such as bread and milk. While she has chosen not to relocate—‘It’s scary out there; you can’t breathe,’ she’s said of the pollution, which she experienced when touring the nation a few years after her discovery—she doesn’t resent outside contact. ‘I don’t know if we would have survived [without it],’ she said in a 2013 interview. ‘We were running out of tools and food. I no longer had any scarves.’ In hard times she survived on tree bark and reportedly ate her own shoes, and her mother, Akulina, starved to death in 1961 to allow her children to live. Lykova has been alone since her father died in 1988. She’s expected to stay in the hospital for roughly a week, having suffered from cartilage deterioration.”

<Retrieved from http://www.newser.com/story/219092/woman-isolated-for-decades-in-siberia- emerges.html?utm_source=8at8&utm_medium=email&utm_content=2908299&utm_campaign=20160118 on 1/22/15.>

Though we sometimes choose to live Lykova even though we’re surrounded by people, God has certainly not called us to live in that kind of isolation.  Instead, He’s calling us to do the hard work of living in community, being the kind of people who demonstrate the love of Jesus in ordinary ways in all our days.

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Real Lovers

(Please read 1 John 4:19-5:5 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I used the NIV.)

Real love can be identified by three unmistakable qualities.

  1. The life a real lover is marked by love.

Our love originates in God’s love for us. Verse nineteen continues the thought began in verse eight: WHOEVER DOES NOT LOVE DOES NOT KNOW GOD, BECAUSE GOD IS LOVE.  Real love originated in God.  This means that we are to love in the way God has loved us; unconditionally and universally.

Love for one another is the “flip side” of loving God.  Love for God & for others is not divisible.  IF ANYONE SAYS (v. 20) is the Elder’s reference to the false teachers that have plagued the church. The falsehood of their teaching is exposed by their lack of love.

A genuine experience of God is always verified by a loving character.  In this way, love is a test for truth.  While they are separate commands, you can’t have one without the other.  If someone claims to love God, but hates (has no love) for their brother, then their claim is proven false: HE IS A LIAR, John wrote.

No one can really love God – who is spiritual and invisible – and have no love for their brother, who is physical and visible.  The opposite is also true: you can’t truly love others until you have God’s love in your heart.

Love is more than a feeling; it is a command.  As V. 21, whatever God commands is the ultimate necessity.  So when the false teachers claimed a personal experience of God as the authority of their teaching, their lack of love betrayed them as false.  WHOEVER LOVES GOD MUST ALSO LOVE HIS BROTHER is linked with Jesus’ love commands (see Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28; Luke 10:25-28).

Belief in Jesus is where real love starts.

Verse one set forth the doctrinal distinctive that separates real lovers from false ones: EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST.

– JESUS refers to the human side of our Savior’s nature. As per Christmas, He was born into our human family and lived a human life.

– CHRIST refers to the divine side of our Savior’s nature. He is God & man at t same time.

– Failing to believe one or the other or both disqualifies you as a real lover.

Those who affirm this faith are BORN OF GOD.  Jesus said that in order to be saved, a person must be born again.  Belief in Jesus as both God and man is the first step toward being born again.

  1. The life of a real lover is marked by obedience.

Loving others is demonstrated by obeying God.  We show our love for God by loving each other.

– This is true in a relational sense. When we worship together, part of

worship is fellowship; strengthening relationships.  When we serve together, part of service is fellowship; it unites us in a common cause.

– This is true in a spiritual sense. Being united in Christ, believers share the Holy Spirit who joins us to God and each other.  Paul wrote that we share the mind of Christ.  While this doesn’t seem to guarantee agreement on specifics, it guarantees a common purpose.

– This is true in a moral sense. As individuals & as a group, we aim to do the right thing in the right way at the right time.  God’s love deals with sin by forgiving it, not by making excuses for it.

Obedience is the way we express love for God.  To encourage us, the Elder adds, AND HIS COMMANDS ARE NOT BURDENSOME.  This is a point he made four times in the Gospel of John (14:15, 21, 23; 15:10) and two other times in his letters (1 John 2:3-5; 2 John 6).

This is true for at least three reasons:

– God has issued His commands to love out of love. Forgiveness and forbearance are implied.

– God has empowered our love by the Holy Spirit who illumines His word and motivates us.

– God has put us together with one another to educate, encourage, and share the work.

  1. The life of a real lover is marked by victory.

We were told in verse one how to be BORN OF GOD.  In verse four we’re told what happens to people who are BORN OF GOD: we overcome the world! In this letter, overcomers are identified by:

– Doing what is right (2:29).

– Avoiding what is wrong (3:9; 5:18).

– Loving one another (4:7).

In John 16:33 = “I HAVE TOLD YOU THESE THINGS, SO THAT IN ME YOU MAY HAVE PEACE.  IN THIS WORLD YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE. BUT TAKE HEART! I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.”  To John, the WORLD is the system of negativity and evil that has aligned itself against God.  The WORLD can be intimidating and/or tempting, but it has no power over people who are BORN OF GOD.  We’re no longer part of that system.

There’s nothing in us that make us overcomers; it is another act of grace on God’s part.  The way we access the VICTORY Jesus won is by FAITH.  In that sense, FAITH is the victory (v. 5).  The VICTORY is available only to HE WHO BELIEVES.  Only the people who have a right relationship with God share in Jesus’ VICTORY.   The VICTORY is based on a specific belief; ONLY HE WHO BELIEVE THAT JESUS IS THE SON OF GOD.

A central truth about Jesus Christ is that He is both God and man.  Those who affirm this truth have VICTORY over the WORLD.  This is essential because God said so, and because our salvation requires it.