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.
More Radical Than You Know
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
How many of you would classify yourself as a radical? For most people, the word “radical” suggests someone extreme. The third meaning of the word in my dictionary is someone who “favors drastic political, economic, or social reforms.” Christianity is radical – both in the first sense of going to the root of something and being very fundamental and thoroughgoing, and in the second sense of drastic change. If you are a sincere Christian, you are a radical, in a sense. Our theme, this morning, is “More Radical Than You Know.”
The Christian faith is more radical than you know. People tend to think of religion , especially the Christian faith, as personal choice that is of relatively little significance. You can tell that by the way people talk about religion, particularly their own religion. It is a personal thing, between them and God and no one else has any need to know about it or has anything to say about it. I remember once that an elder (from a different congregation in a different state) reported that his buddies at the local bar expressed their shock at hearing that he was an elder of a church. They had no idea that he was a Christian at all, or even went to church, or so they reported. Generations of parents have raised their children to disregard church, and to consider their parent’s religion as nothing special. You can hear that same attitude in the parents when they say something like, “Well, they may not be going to church in the Lutheran Church, but at least they are going to church somewhere.” Obviously, they are Lutherans by chance and without reason. Anywhere else seems to be just as good. There is something dangerously wrong in such attitudes. I don’t think that way. I am Lutheran for a reason – called “the Truth”. Jesus said that if you continue in His Word, you would know the truth and the truth would set you free.
The Christian faith is radical, more radical than you know, and our text this morning talks about that. Radical means “to the root”. The Christian faith is not merely an intellectual “opinion” that one adopts and then exchanges for something better when it come it comes along. It is thorough-going change. Paul wrote that if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation!
John approaches the radical nature of Christianity differently, He begins, as our text begins here, with, Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you. Now why would the world hate you? Because the Christian faith is something that transforms us. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Our faith has taken us out of death and into life everlasting. The sign of our change for us is the love of the brethren - one another in Christ.
How does that serve as a sign? Well, the world hates us because we are fundamentally different. We love one another, and the world hates us. Since we love what the world hates, we know that we are not of the world, but of God. Just a couple of verses before our text, John wrote, By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
The transformation may not always so obvious to us, because we are the ones transformed. It is like smelling your own breath. If you have onion breath, someone else usually has to tell you, because you are accustomed to it. We don’t feel all that righteous, nor do we feel all that loving. The righteousness is Christ’s, and we merely try to live up to what we have been given. The love is God’s love too, and we simply try to live it out and live up to it as well. But the world can see it, and it hates us with a violent hatred. You can see that hatred in the way the world treats Christians and their faith compared with how it deals with Islam, or Native American Spirituality – one is good, protected, defended, excuses made for it, even when it is evil, and the other is despised even when it serves the public good. They will take your good deeds for all they are worth and then curse you for being who you are as you walk away.
Read the First Epistle of John, or join us Bible Study. We are studying it right now. You will be struck by how black and white John is, and how thoroughgoing the demands of the faith are. There are no half-way measures. Our love is to echo the love of Christ. We are to be like 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. Love is seen in Jesus - He laid down His life for us. That is our functional definition of love: bear the cross, lay down your life for one another. Our love for one another should look like His love for us. Difficult to do. Difficult to imagine. Frightening to even think about. More radical than you know!
The demands of this passage are absolute and daunting – which should give you a clue. Are these words Law or Gospel? Of course, when John writes about Jesus laying down His life for us, that is Gospel, sweet and pure. When He tells us that we should lay down our lives for one another, that is Law. It is true, and it is valid, but it is only capable of accusing us. We are not capable of keeping it perfectly. That truth doesn’t excuse us from trying. It excuses us from despair. Christ has died for us, so when we find ourselves crushed by this law, just as by any other, we must hear the Word of God, the Absolution, telling us that Christ has died for us and we are forgiven. We are set free to love God and love one another, and to live out that love to the best of our ability, always calling on God to fill us up with His Spirit and enable us to do more, to do better, to follow in the footsteps of His Son.
Holiness, righteousness, befits the people of God. We may not be able to do it well, but that doesn’t stop us from trying –
and repenting when we fail
and calling on God to enable us to do more and do better,
and then trying again.
Our love in imitation of Christ is part of the reason that the world hates us. We look like Christ to them. We don’t let the world shape us, our values and our attitudes – or our actions. We are shaped by Christ and His love for us, and His Word which works in us and on us.
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. It is a simple formula, but it goes right to the root of who you are. God knows only two conditions here, love and hate. There is no sliding scale, just one thing or the other, like a light switch, on or off. You either love your brother, or you hate Him. John used the example of Cain, who hated Abel, in another part of this chapter. If you are not loving your brother, you are hating him. The text means to refer to brothers in the faith here. Our brothers are fellow believers – both male and female, by the way. The world has the unbelievers as their brothers, they share a faith too, a common hatred of God, and they hate one another too. They hate us more, but they have no real love for each other. Hatred is their native emotion.
You can feel the truth of that. Your sinful flesh informs you. You know how easy it is to hate, and how anger is the easiest emotion to summon up. True love, compassion, and genuine concern for one another, is difficult. It is so difficult, it must be inspired, poured out into you by God. Even then, our flesh gets in the way. We have to confess failure and lack of love far too often. Only Jesus loves completely. Your apathy, your lack of true love is a sign of your sin. You can see your lack of love. Jesus took that up to the cross for you also and died for you that you might live. Trust in Jesus, and in His salvation.
Then love one another. 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. Then, don’t just talk about love, do love. Really love. How do you tell where you belong with all of that love? If you see your brother in need and have the resources to help him and do nothing to help him, how can you possibly love him? No, you do what you can. You reach out for a brother in the faith where you see the need.
You don’t have to limit yourself just to those you know are Christians. You can reach out wherever you see a need that you can assist with. Some times that is how we evangelize. But certainly love those who share your faith - your brothers. Paul wrote in Galatians 6, So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. It is the love of God in you, shining through you. It is the least that a Christian can do. If a Christian, so-called, does less (and I mean habitually, not just occasionally) it is to be wondered if they are a Christian. Remember, John tells us that the distinguishing feature of a child of God is that love. Jesus said it too: By this will all men know that you are my Disciples, if you have love for one another.
The Christian faith is a gift of God, through Word and Sacrament. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, and He brings these things with Him. As the children of God we seek to live out the reality of who we are and what we have been given, even though we must do so in the face of sinful flesh that does not want to live it out with us. But it is a defining thing, if you love the brethren, you know that you have passed out of death – you cannot die. If you hate your brother, you cannot live - the murderer has no eternal life in him. Your actions do matter – they don’t save you, but they identify you and they truly matter.
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.
The Christian faith is not a simple thing. It is not a choice one makes or an option in life. It is who you are right to the core - a very radical thing. More radical than you know! It is not something we do, and take for granted and move on. It is something we do,
and fail at,
and hear the word of forgiveness,
and praise God for His grace,
and set to being His people deliberately once again. It is your life, lived in grace and lived in repentance, and lived best in love. And it is more radical than you know!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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