Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
During this service we have welcomed a sister into full membership of this congregation and we have welcomed a brother back into the full privileges of membership of this congregation. And we have also read a form which is designed to help us prepare to come to the Lord’s Supper next Sunday. And immediately before the Supper next week, I will explain that the Lord’s Supper is for those who are confessing members of this congregation and those who are members of other Christian churches. And without going into the whole argument, we do these things because we think that membership in a local congregation is an important teaching of the Bible.
But the fact is that MEMBERSHIP IN A LOCAL CONGREGATION DOES NOT MAKE YOU A CHRISTIAN. If you think you are a child of God because you are a member of this congregation or any other congregation, you are quite mistaken. Those who are God’s children are those who know that they belong to their faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who has fully paid for all their sins with His precious blood. And this has been a key message in John’s letter. We are children of God not because of anything we do but because of what Jesus Christ has done.
But just as you can see EVIDENCE of a biological connection between any child and his or her parents, what John has been eager for his readers to see also is that you CAN TELL IF SOMEONE TRULY IS A CHILD OF GOD. Many people claim to be believers, but if someone truly is a child of God, there will evidence of this.
So last Sunday we looked at the first piece of evidence in vv4-10. And John summarized his point there with the contrast in v10. He said, “By 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.” So, someone who is a child of God will strive to obey God, and they will fight hard to resist temptation, and when they sin they will confess their sin to the Lord and turn away from it. And if you don’t see this in a person’s life, then that person is a child of the devil.
Well, v10 serves as the heading or summary of this next section and the second piece of evidence. For what you will also see in he who truly is a child of God is that he loves his brother. (And just to be clear, the masculine language used here has females in view also) So if a man or woman does not love his or her brothers and sisters, then we may be sure that he or she is a child of the devil. And the contrast that is explored in connection with this piece of evidence is between love and hate.
So we find our very simple theme for this next section right there in v11; and it is that WE SHOULD LOVE ONE ANOTHER. And John’s point in v11 is that this is not some mysterious teaching that most Christians only discover after years of Bible study. Right? This is the ABC of Christianity. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And this command and what it looks like is explored throughout the NT, as we saw in our Romans 12 reading. So, as John explores the contrast between love and hate in these verses, we see that he does so with a NEGATIVE example and then a POSITIVE example. And what we are going to do is to consider these two examples and then finish with some words of application for us here today.
I. So let’s first consider the NEGATIVE EXAMPLE in vv12-15.
A. And the negative example that John uses is CAIN. He says to his readers, “We should not be like Cain.” And we read the account of Cain and Abel earlier in the service. They both brought offerings to the Lord, but the Lord was pleased with Abel’s offering but not with Cain’s. And so, Cain was angry and he “rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” And John tells us why Cain did this; it was because Cain “was of the evil one,” and “because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” So “we should not be like Cain.”
B. Now, v13 says, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” And there is a danger that we read this AS SOME GENERAL POINT ABOUT PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS. But we need to keep in mind the major theme of this letter, which is that not everyone who claims to be a child of God truly is a child of God, and that certain evidence will help believers recognize false professions of faith. In addition, the narrow context is about Cain and how we should not be like him because he was a hater and a murderer.
1. So, let’s recall THE SITUATION OF THOSE JOHN ORIGINALLY WROTE TO. Some had left the congregation. And most likely these were people who held to Gnostic beliefs, but whatever the case, though they claimed to be children of God, they were not. It seems though that some of these were still a part of the congregation or that the ones who had left kept on attending worship and participating in church activities, trying to influence those who had remained in the congregation.
2. So John’s point here is that Cain and Abel were in the same congregation. Cain and Abel worshipped together. They both professed faith. But our text tells us that Cain “was of the evil one.” And this became evident in his hatred of Abel and eventually his murder of Abel. So John is saying to his readers that they should not be surprised to see this happening in their congregation if it contains those who are not truly children of God.
3. We could paraphrase v13 like this then, Do not be surprised, brothers, that these Gnostics hate you. They hate you because although they profess faith they are actually children of the devil; they are not of God, they are of the world. And those who do evil deeds hate those who do what God commands, just like Cain hated Abel.
a. A very basic ILLUSTRATION of this reality at work is when students at a Christian school or at Cadets and Gems, for example, call one of the group a ‘goody two shoes’ or a ‘goody-good’ or the ‘teacher’s pet.’ Do you know what I am talking about, boys and girls? I am sure we have all been a part of this or have seen it happen. Yes? Those who like to muck around and get up to mischief don’t usually like those who always want to do what’s right and who tell on them when they act up. So they call them those names.
b. Now, I am not saying that anyone who does this or has done this is a child of the devil. Let’s be very clear about that. I am simply illustrating what John means when he says we should not be surprised that the world hates us. Those who do wrong do not like those who do right. So if there are people in the church who are not truly children of God, we shouldn’t be surprised that they hate those who do what is right.
C. And FURTHER EXPLANATION about this is given in v14. Why should hatred not surprise us? Because love for brothers will only be found in those who “have passed out of death into life. Whoever does not love abides in death.” So what come naturally to human beings is hatred. Hatred is easy and instinctive and where people go by nature if they do not know Jesus Christ. That is why hatred should not surprise us. The love that John is talking about will only be found in those who have new life in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we will come back to what this love looks like soon.
D. But v15 completes the ‘negative example’ thought: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” So with Cain in view, John is CONNECTING HATRED AND MURDER here. But does the connection between hatred and murder remind you of another part of the Bible? The Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5:21-26. Jesus was talking to people who thought that so long as they did not actually murder they had kept the 6th Commandment. But Jesus wanted everyone to see that the Commandment goes much deeper than that. So He said, “Anyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brothers will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Anger and insult and name calling are also ways the 6th Commandment is broken. Behaviour like this should not be found among those who have “passed out of death into life”; who are children of God. Therefore, when you see brothers and sisters who hate each other, you are right to question their profession of faith.
1. Now, if you were here last Sunday you will remember that what is in view in this whole section is NOT A SINGLE INSTANCE OF SIN, for even believers will not be free of sin until we are in heaven, but CONTINUED sin without any effort to resist it and without any sorrow over that sin. So the person who has continual hatred toward his brother or sister is of the evil one.
2. And yet, having said that, we need to be clear also that every instance of hatred among brothers and sisters is wicked, because it is Cain-like behaviour, because it comes from the evil one, not from God, and because it is inconsistent with who we are as God’s children. Anytime we sin in this area, we should be deeply troubled because it is the absolute opposite of how we should be behaving as children of God.
II. So that’s the negative example – “We should not be like Cain.” Let’s look now at the POSITIVE EXAMPLE that is given in vv16-18.
A. John says, “By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” And John is speaking here about JESUS. He freely chose to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven. And with these words, John is surely remembering the words Jesus spoke, as they are recorded in JOHN 15:13, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
1. Now, before we explain what this command means, let’s just drink this truth into our souls for a moment! Jesus is saying that He lay down His life for His FRIENDS. Those Jesus died on the cross for, He views as His friends! And He goes on to say exactly this in John 15. He says, “I no longer call you servants … I have called you friends.” Isn’t that beautiful and uplifting! Jesus calls us His friends!
2. The main point though is that His love for us was seen in that He laid down His life for us; He died for us. And so, we should be willing to “lay down our lives for the brothers [and sisters].”
3. Now, it will not often be the case that we literally must die for our brothers and sisters. So what is Jesus saying here? Well, Jesus used the same language in reference to THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SHEEP. And in NT times, the shepherd sometimes had to risk his life for the sake of the sheep. But everyday he had to put his own interests behind that of the sheep. He had to make his priority the well-being of the sheep. Food and water and shelter and safety were the things that the shepherd was busy with everyday. So what is in view with this command is not so much the rare and heroic life-saving act that few will ever be called on to do, but the self-sacrificial, others-first, everyday things that every believer can do.
4. And VERSES 17-18 make this plain: “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? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” The Gnostics, it would appear, were full of talk about secret knowledge and their new community, but if you were hungry or sick or homeless or orphaned or a widow or penniless, that was not their problem. They loved to talk about the ideals of love in their false philosophy, but don’t come to them when you need bread! And John was eager that his readers not be like these Gnostics but that their love for each other would be evident in practical ways.
So, now that we have considered these two examples, the negative example of Cain and the positive example of Christ, we are ready to draw out some what-does-this-mean-for-us-today? points.
So, in terms of love, WHERE ARE WE POINTED TO FIRST IN THESE VERSES? To the Lord Jesus in v16. And only after having done that does John go on to talk about our deeds. You see, the fact is that you cannot manufacture love. The only thing that leads to the love described here is a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
When we learn and experience the love that God has shown us in Jesus Christ; when we begin to explore His un-bounding love for us, when we believe that He loved us lavishly, over-flowingly, by giving up His dearly loved Son, His intimate friend from all eternity, to earth and the cross, then we love.
When we know that God gave the best He had for the worst there was – sinners like you and me – then we love.
As we come to see that He brought us into His family, despite our complete unworthiness, then we pursue and cultivate a loving relationship with every member of our new family.
This is what v14 was describing: This love is found only in those who are new creations in Christ; who have the Spirit of God dwelling in their hearts. When you seek this love you don’t go to a how-to book but to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and a prayer that His love would rain on the dry soil of your heart.
1. What this means then is that a Christian husband who is not loving his wife is ‘fixed’ now with instruction about giving flowers and date nights, but when the Spirit of God convicts him of his sin and fills his heart with a fresh awareness of how Christ loves the church – his Bride. That’s Ephesians 5:24 right, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” And once he gets this then we can talk about flowers and date nights.
2. And a congregation where there is strife and division and neglect of widows and very little hospitality is ‘fixed’ not with meal rosters and Guess-whose-coming-for-dinner-events, but when the Spirit of God convicts the members of their sin and fills them with a fresh experience of God’s love shining in the darkness of Calvary’s horror.
A. And we have an example of this in the Book of ROMANS. The Rome congregation was suffering from serious division. So Paul gives them 11 chapters that explore the dimensions of God’s grace to unworthy sinners in Christ. And only then does he give them the chapter we read earlier. But what a chapter! He reminds congregations that that they are one body in Christ with many members who do not all have the same function. So he calls on believers to allow for and celebrate our different gifts and different personalities and different practices and different emphases. And then he says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another… Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
B. You see, it is only those who are full of the love of Christ who will quietly visit widows and dementia patients, or regularly host presbytery delegates, or bring a dinner around to the person who is ill despite the fact that they think we should have pews in the new church building when we think we should have chairs.
C. One commentator says, “The devil is unceasing in his attempts to kill love in our lives. Usually he does it slowly. We are hurt by someone in the church, and we begin withdrawing from them. Over a period of time, we gather resentments to justify our isolation. We erect barricades around ourselves to keep others out. We become insensitive to other people and their needs.” And so, we do not rejoice when they rejoice and we do not weep when they weep, and we do not show them hospitality or help them in time of need. So which of our two examples is that person now following? Not Christ, but Cain.
D. Could this be you? If so, you need to go to the cross. For only there will you see the kind of love that God longs to see in congregations of His children, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Praise God for the love that exists among us. But Beloved, let us love one another more and more. Amen.