1 John 3:13-18
Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
What Love Looks Like
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Last week I talked about love - that God is love, and that He dwells within us because we confess Christ. Therefore we are filled with love by the indwelling of God. This week's Epistle comes before last week's in the First Epistle of John, but it continues our discussion about love. It tells us that we know that we have passed out of death and into life because of that love - that we love the brethren, which was one of the consequences of the love of God abiding in us that we talked about last Sunday. So, I invite you to consider our Epistle lesson this week, as we continue to learn about this agape love from the Apostle John. Our theme is "What Love Looks Like".
John doesn't say that we have passed out of death and into life because we love. He says that we know that we have done so because we love the brethren. Loving one another is one sure sign that we are among Christ's people. To be one of Christ's people, and therefore among the saved, is also to be one who loves your brother. Once again, the brother her is anyone who confesses Christ - a fellow believer, and more specifically, a fellow-believer who is part of this family of God's choosing we call a congregation. This simple and yet profound truth stands as yet another reason for us to seek out that fellowship which confesses the truth clearly and fully. If you were to belong to a congregation of a mixed confession, where some confess these truth about Christ, and other reject them and confess a different set of truths, you would never be able to be confident that the person sitting in the next seat, or just in front to you, was actually a brother, a fellow-believer who also confessed the truth of Christ. A congregation that does not share a common confession is not a church in the truest sense of those called out of the world into the household of God, but merely a congregating of individuals in a common place for vaguely religious purposes.
Where the confession of Christ is united, where we share the confession of the same truths, we may not be able to always identify if there is a hypocrite among us, but we know who our brothers are. Someone's individual hypocrisy is between them and the Lord to sort out. Where there is no common faith confessed, but just a sort of religious sense and an organizational membership shared, we have no specific reason for confidence that the next man or woman believes much of the same things, or that they are brothers in the faith and in the household of God. There they do not stand together confessing Christ as much as they stand confessing themselves as religious, and usually confessing something about Christ and faith and church which is simply not in accord with the Word of God. But I digress.
We know that we have passed out of death and into life because we love the brethren - Jesus said, by this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. But suppose someone doesn't love the brethren? We all have known people in the Church who don't seem to even like other people, and who treat their brothers and sisters in Christ rather shabbily. What about them? John says, "He who does not love abides in death." It is not membership in the outward thing called "church" that saves one. It is Christ who saves, and that gift of salvation and redemption is received by grace through faith. But God's indwelling in the one that believes makes a difference. It changes you. If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The Christian faith is not merely an opinion or a philosophical choice. It is the life-changing and life giving work of God in you through His Word. By the preaching and hearing of His Word, He comes to you and takes up residence in you - although not always with great emotion and an unflagging sense of His presence. Instead He brings faith, and peace, and hope - and His love which compels your love, which is why, "He who does not love abides in death."
As to that one who does not love his or her brothers in Christ, we recall that there is only love and hate in this Gospel evaluation, and if you don't love, you must hate. It is the only other option. And, Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. This is so because hating is compatible with the love which God brings to dwell in those that believe. It is also true because hatred is the thought which produces murder, not doing the deed, but desiring it. We can hear it in the words hatred speaks, "I couldn't care less!" "Drop Dead!" and, a favorite of those who hate, "I don't care whether you live or die, you're dead to me!" Both hatred and blind apathy toward the well-being of a brother is murder - maybe not the kind you go to prison for - but it is judged the same by God. No murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
So far, this Epistle preaches the Law. It tells you what to do or how you ought to be. But now John comes to the Gospel. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us. We know love and understand how it works because of Jesus. He laid down His life for us. John is writing to the Church so he doesn't need to lay out the Gospel in all of its details. This short phrase brings the whole Gospel to mind. He doesn't say that Jesus died for us, but that He laid down His life for us. He deliberately died. How He died was familiar to every one of them. What it means and what results for us were as familiar to them as it is to us. The entire epistle is about that gift of life eternal and the forgiveness of sins. The letter began with the solid assurance of the forgiveness of sins, so he does not need to repeat it here. He actually brings up the Gospel to remind us what love looks like.
You cannot see ordinary love, except, perhaps, in the dopey look on the faces of two lovers as they look into one another's eyes. But the love of God is visible because it is always active. Love of this sort takes action on behalf of the beloved and for the welfare of the beloved. Jesus loved us and died for us, taking our sins and our death and suffering for sin. He love the Father and so He was obedient to the plan of salvation right up to the point of dying in a hideously painful way, and in a way upon which He has already spoke a curse through the prophets. His love is seen by looking at the cross and realizing that Jesus did that for you so that you will not need to.
Forgiveness, life, and salvation are the consequence of the death of Jesus. It is poured out for all mankind, and received by those who believe it, and trust in God to forgive us, care for us, and raise us from the dead, if need be, on the last day and give us eternal life in glory with Him. Faith takes God at His Word and expects Him to do what He has promised. And God comes to dwell within each one that believes - and since God is love, as our Epistle taught us last week, We are filled with that active, doing-things, sort of love from God ad for God and for our brothers, who, like us, are born again of God, by water and the Word.
John tells us about that love because the world around us will hate us - and it does. We can read it in the newspapers and hear it on the daily news shows. The commentators accuse Christianity of being violent and evil, while they blindly excuse Islam for the actual violence it does. John reminds us not to marvel that the world hates us. It is only human nature. So they don't want to hear it when you want to speak of your faith. And so they are willing to invent the false expectation that we would dominate them to make them do things our way. They raise the shrill cry of theocracy and assure one another that we are more dangerous to them than the Taliban. They say that it religious fundamentalism that makes terrorist, and then they label anyone who believes the Bible s truthful a "Fundamentalist", and therefore a potential terrorist. They hate us because their god and master hates us. Jesus told us that whoever was not with us would be against us. There is really no neutral territory in this war.
That is why the love of the brethren is so crucial. They hate us and will use whatever is available to destroy us. They will try to lure us out of faith. They will marginalize our doctrine. They will try to make "doing good deeds" the central thing and try to shift the focus of our active love toward themselves and everyone, except, perhaps, Christians. They will try to seduce us with the pleasure of this world, and failing that they will try to shame us with the scorn of the world. At times, they will even resort to persecution and even death to silence us. That insanity will seem even sane to them because they live in human nature and serve the lord of this world - the Father of lies.
So we need to practice the love which is ours in faith in Christ. We need to live out that active love which God gives us - and we need to love our brothers in Christ. I didn't add sisters because the Bible doesn't. God counts us all as sons and as brothers, without regard for our gender distinctives which this world finds so valuable. It is not that God is unaware of our gender - He created both man and woman, but He wants us to understand that we are all alike before Him, and the distinctions which make so much sense and such great differences among us in this world are utterly insignificant when it comes to the issues of eternal life and the grace of God.
The one distinction that matters is, are you His child or a servant of sin, a slave of the flesh, and belonging to Satan. That distinction is marked by love. We love the brethren - each other, our fellow disciples of Christ and fellow confessors of Christ with that rich and active love which echoes and imitates the love of God for us. The world hates us and we love on another. We love with the sort of love that takes care of each other. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. We don't often face the need to actually die for one another, but if arose we should be ready. That is what true, agape love looks like. Short of that demand, we all face the challenges of this life. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?
Faith in Christ is more than just an opinion on the relative worth of this particular religious philosophy over against others. It is not merely an intellectual position. It is utter radical - meaning it goes to the root of your being. It changes you and influences your life and behavior. Sadly, we still sin, because we still carry around with us the sinful flesh. That is why we continue to rejoice that we have a Savior, and we repent and He forgives us. And our lives become our confession and our worship, and John tells us that our love for one another, created and prompted by God, becomes one of the most significant elements in that worship and confession. It is real and active among those that believe. It is what love looks like. Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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