1 John 3. 11-24: Our Brothers
June 19, 2011 Series: Letters of John
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 John 3:18–3:18
One of Two Father’s
Happy Father’s Day! Last week, John’s words echoed Jesus own teaching that everyone lives RIGHT NOW as the children of one of two fathers. Those who do not believe in Jesus are children of the devil—a fallen angel in rebellion whom Jesus describes as a liar and murderer since the beginning of time. Unless you were conceived by the Holy Spirit like Jesus or saved in the womb like John the Baptist, everyone who is born sinful, is born a child of wrath. For some this is a disturbing truth because you want to believe that man is innocent until something external ruins him. Scripture tells us that something internal has already ruined us, sin, causing us to worship those things God gave us instead of God himself. Remembering the truth of our depravity should bring us joy; it makes the love and grace of God’s salvation that much more incredible. God did not come into the worldwide orphanage of fallen souls and select the clean, well-behaved, quiet children who hadn’t abused or been abused. He only adopts sinners who sin.
We are either a born child of the devil or reborn and adopted as a child of God. Like all children naturally do, as we grow in our belief or unbelief, we begin to look like our spiritual fathers. That doesn’t mean we grow horns or halos on our heads, but it means we will imitate their attitudes, words, and deeds in real life. Our Father’s influence will govern our relationship with God and others. John says that our love for God, or the love for that which is not God, will manifest itself in how we live and treat others: this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. The heart of the Father is seen in His children who have a certain belief in Jesus identity, a certain disposition toward sin, a certain expectation for how the world will end, and a certain way to love the family of God.
Love one another (V.11)
John begins in verse 11 with a statement of everything he is going to explain: God’s children: LOVE ONE ANOTHER. I spoke about this at length when we hit 2John. We must not consider how we understand that command, but how God says he understands it. John is not speaking about loving our neighbors here, though that is an important command. He is speaking about our love for our fellow Christians in community together. John’s words are nearly identical to those of Jesus who on the night of his arrest told his disciples, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13.31-35.
First, we must ask why John emphasizes love so much in these letters. John is writing during a time of persecution against Christians. Identification with teaching of the apostles and participation in the church meant worshipping Jesus as God. This was potentially a life and death decision. Worshipping Jesus as God meant refusing to worship the emperor. And so many people are taking a “every man for himself” mentality and leaving “true fellowship” to avoid persecution. In leaving the church, they are neglecting their responsibility to serve, defend, and care for the family. Others are probably staying connected with the fellowship, but acting as if they have left. In other words, no one including the Romans, would ever know they were Christians because of how they appear to hate other Christians.
Do not be like: CAIN (v. 12,15)
To encourage his readers, and us, Pastor John compares their passive refusal to love other Christians, with the violent hatred Cain possessed in murdering his brother Abel. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous…15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. Genesis 4 records the story of Cain and Abel, the first sons born to Adam and Eve after the fall in the garden. Cain, the firstborn, was a farmer and Abel was a Shepherd of sheep. One day, they each brought an offering to the Lord. Cain brought some fruit and Abel brought the firstborn of his flock. The Bible says that God approved of Abel and his offering, but did not approve of Cain’s, which made him very angry. Genesis 4.6-9. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” 8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
Spirit of Cain = Self-Love
It’s unlikely that we would characterize the “unloving” as murderers like Cain. Relationally, taking one’s life is the worst you can do to someone. Jesus described Satan as a murderer from the beginning, one who opposes the giver of life. Taking one’s life is actively working against the character of God JUST AS refusing to love opposes the very character God. In chapter 4, John will say, “GOD IS LOVE.” God is by nature a being who gives himself to others eternally. The persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have eternally existed together in perfect eternal loving community, before creation ever was. He did not need creation to love. God by nature gives of himself for the benefit of others. Cain, on the other hand, became known in Jewish History as the symbol of SELF-LOVE. John says that Cain’s Daddy was Satan. And as such, Cain was opposed to God. Namely, Cain was only devoted to himself, his own work, his own reputation, his own power, his own comfort, his own success—love for himself. He did not view Abel as a brother, but as a rival; not as a someone to care for but someone to use or abuse. Cain reveals his spirit when he asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer for the children of Satan is no, I worry about mine.
Un/Surprising Love (V. 13-14)
The answer for the children of God is: Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. And we don’t like to hear that. We can agree that we should not “murder” our brothers, but many of us cannot agree that we should care for them—at least not in a way that moves us to action. John tells us that self-love is characteristic of a dead world. And that a love for the brothers signals the fact that we who were DEAD have become alive—love like this is the hearbeat, the breathing, the sign of life! 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. The hatred of the world, which probably in their case includes persecution for identifying with Jesus, should not surprise us. Jesus warned that because the world hated Him (the epitome of true love) they would hate us if we endeavored to imitate his kind of love. Our love should be strange, foreign, and different. Their disdain for it, should not surprise us. What should surprise is a Christian who does not love his brother. Because a Christians has been changed, a Christian has been reborn, a Christian has come a alive, a Christians has been adopted into a new family with ways, a Christians has the seed of Jesus abiding in his heart.
HOW we ought love (V. 16-18)
John doesn’t just stop at telling us THAT we ought to love, but HOW we ought to love: 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
Laying down our lives
Again, John seems to repeat the words of Jesus himself in John 15.12-14:”This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Great love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus Christ is the standard, guide, and example for our love. Christ, not comfort, Christ, not convenience, Christ not conventional wisdom is what defines what is “loving”. And Jesus Christ did more than SAY He loved his people, it was love in action. And though he loved through preaching, teaching, miracles, and healings, the pinnacle of his love came through his willing, joyful, humble SACRIFICE on the cross. And as we see Jesus being murdered we see the hatred of the world contrasted with the love of God. One loves themselves and removes every potential threat to their stuff, and the other is other-oriented, giving everything He has for the benefit of others. One is completely self-centered and one is completely self-denying.
Our Goods/Our Livelihood
True love within Damascus Road Church means laying down our lives for those we call brothers and sisters. It is unlikely that we will get the opportunity to literally die as Christ died for our brothers, but we all have the opportunity to live the life that he did. Philippians 2 tells us what the attitude of Christ is: 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Jesus made sacrifices of power, position, wealth, fame, of all glory due and reserved for God. John argues that to live sacrificially then, we must be willing, more than that, striving to suffer personal sacrifice for others. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. In other words, it isn’t really loving unless there is action, and it really isn’t loving action unless it costs you something, and it doesn’t matter if it costs you something, if it isn’t the kind of love the person actually needs.
Closing our hearts
John doesn’t give us any wiggle room. He says we do not love because we CLOSE OUR HEARTS. It’s not that we “can’t” sacrifice, we are not willing to sacrifice--unless we can predict a personal benefit.
- LIE #1: I don’t see my GOODS. I would help but I just don’t have enough to love.
- TRUTH #1: You are rich. There is much more than money here, there is time, energy, and other resources. But because money is the hardest thing for us to give up, we’ll hit that. We don’t believe you are rich, we you are. We choose to spend your money on other things. And though we’d love to help that single mom with $50, our cellphone is just too darn important. Some of us are working hard to “make ends meet”, not realizing that we need new ends. Just because we make 80K a year does not mean we have to live an 80K year lifestyle. Especially if that lifestyle means we won’t be in a position to help someone in need—a neighbor, a family member, or a brother in the church. The truth is that we do not plan for intentional love. We react. We are ill-prepared. We give our leftovers.
- LIE# 2: I don’t see my BROTHER. I would help but I don’t know who to love.
- TRUTH #2: You are not looking. We have to intentionally place ourselves in a position to see other brothers and sisters. This extends beyond Sunday morning. This is why we have Road Groups, to help us love one another. We have obligations to our own birth families, but we also have commands regarding our spiritual family. We mustn’t hide behind the needs of our family as a reason not to extend help and fulfill the command of God. In doing so, we are teaching our children not to love your brothers. Instead, we need to be in a place to see and be seen by your brothers and sisters. We need to stop being afraid, stop hiding, stop coming to the event, stop viewing US as “people” and start seeing them as brothers, as part of the family.
- Lie #3: I don’t see the NEED. I would help but I don’t know what to do or how to love.
- TRUTH #3: You haven’t taken time to know the needs. If you see people then you know the needs are there. And if you endeavor to know people, you will see the needs. Even people in community can fail to take an interest in one another. But not considering the others interests IS the attitude of Christ. And if you don’t know the needs, it is only because you don’t ask. Don’t assume there is no need or that you know the need. It is loving, not nosey, to inquire about one’s life, it is loving to offer help, it is loving to get to know that person. And knowing enables you to love them in the way they actually need not in the ways that is easiest for you.
For many of us, we don’t love because we don’t believe we ourselves need love, or it’s the last thing on our list. The truth is that God tells us to live in community because he is the Creator and he knows perfectly what is good for us. We all need to be loved and we all need to love—you not only must position yourself to help, but be in a position to be helped. I’ve heard it said by those who get busy with life, “We don’t have time for community, we’re just trying to survive.” You may as well say, “I don’t have time to love my brothers” or “I don’t have time to obey God.” Community is part of survival.
So if you find yourself fighting against the command, know that whatever reasons you might have, your refusal to love is rooted in a rebellious heart. Ask yourself how THE LOVE OF GOD can ABIDE in someone that does not actively love their brothers? If reborn children of God do not love “in word and deed”, like Jesus, then it is doubtful whether they have the Spirit of Christ living in them at all.
Our Condemning & Confident Heart (v.19-22)
Having proclaimed the commandment of God, we will close with Johns’ words about how our hearts might respond to it. 19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
When our hearts condemn us à Jesus
An active love for the brothers serves to assure our own hearts before God—that we are his children. Without doubt, many of us will probably begin to despair in thinking about our failure or our inability to love as we should have. And we may, even this week, fail to love generously when the opportunity arises. John assures us that even if our hearts condemn us, we can have confidence that our faith in the perfect love of Jesus is what decisively saves us. And even if we fail again and again, God already knew, and He is there to remind us that we are still his kids. It is that kind of love that empowers us to love next time.
When our hearts do not condemn us à Jesus
Of course, our hearts may not condemn us. We hear God’s command to “love one another” and do not fall into a guilty conscience. One of two things are happening: 1) You have not obeyed and yet you feel no sense of conviction for not loving. That is called an unbeliever. 2) You have loved as God commands, and you rejoice because, as a child of God, you can approach the throne of God with confidence and not shame. More than that God the Father will answer your prayers. And don’t think that God answers because he is pleased with our obedience. His is pleased. But our obedience already demonstrates our delight in God and His will and, therefore, his answers to prayer, which are always according to His will, will always bless us.
Conclusion: THE COMMANDMENT (v. 23-24).
23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. The most important command to heed is not to any one of God’s laws. The most important command to obey is God’s charge to believe in the name of Jesus Christ. In other words, ours is a commitment of faithfulness, not fruitfulness, of delighting in God, not in working for Him to delight in us. There is an order to things. A dead man cannot love, but a man “made alive” by the love of Jesus cannot help but love his brothers. Before we fail to love our brothers we fail to love Jesus. Our new life does not begin or end with faith in good works. It begins with a faith in Jesus, ends with a hope for Jesus, and lives in this earthly existence with a love like Jesus.
Benediction: Acts 2.42-47