Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, October 21, 2018
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Love One Another

1 John 3:11-24

 I am afraid that we live in a world that doesn’t really know love.  We certainly know hate.  We can’t seem to avoid that one.  If we turn on the television or the news or the internet, we can’t help but see the results of hate.  Violence, crime, terrorism, and other acts of hate have become so commonplace that we hardly raise an eyebrow.  Maybe the world has always been this way, but we’re much more aware of it, living in a world where the news comes to us 24 hours a day.  

 The problem is that we really don’t know love.  Part of the problem is that our culture, for the most part, only seems to focus on one definition of love:  Attraction, romance, sensuality.  The problem is that if that’s our definition of love, and if God is love, then our understanding of God is skewed.  

 In the languages of the Bible, Greek and Hebrew, they were smart enough to know that love can be expressed in more than one way.  For example, Greek had four words to express the idea of love.  One word meant “family love,” loyalty and commitment.  Another word meant “friendship love,” companionship, kindred spirits.  Another word meant “romantic or sensual love,” the attraction between a man and a woman.  And finally, there was AGAPE, the only word that is used in the New Testament to describe the love of God.  It is the love revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  It is a love that denies self to bless another.  That is the love that we are commanded to show to one another.  God is AGAPE, not romance, not friendship, but self-giving love.  

 In John 15, Jesus said, “I command you to AGAPE each other in the way that I have AGAPE’d you.  Here is how you know it:  AGAPE is when people lay down their lives for each other.”  AGAPE is defined by Jesus.  It is grounded in his example.  And it is only when we have this kind of love that we know that we have passed from death to life.  

 Apart from Christ, we are always left with an inadequate understanding of love.  Unless we know love, because we have experienced in Jesus Christ, seen it played out on the cross, we will always have an inadequate understanding of what it is.  We have to experience it, receive it, and internalize it through the example of Christ.  

 And if we lack that kind of love, then it shows that we have not passed from death to life.  We are still in the spiritual condition of death.  Because if we have received that love from God, it will not leave us unchanged.  

 If we hate another person, especially if we hate a brother or sister in Christ, then we are really a murderer at heart.  Jesus told us in Matthew 5 that hatred is murder in principle.  If we hate someone, we have already killed them in our heart.  We have already destroyed that relationship internally.  If we go ahead and carry out the act of murder, then we are only fulfilling the internal attitude.  

 Verse 12 warns us of the example of Cain, the first murderer, who killed his brother Abel.  Why did he do it?  Because he loved himself, and he loved the darkness in his own heart.  But he hated the righteousness of his brother.  It is the nature of darkness to be hostile to light.  Those who love evil hate those who love good, because they shed light on their hearts.  

 In John chapter 8, Jesus compared his opponents to Cain.  He said, “You are trying to kill me.  You are obeying your real father.  If God was your Father, you would love me because I have come to you from God, but you are children of the Devil.  He was a murderer from the beginning and has always hated the truth.”  

 Why is John speaking about these things?  What’s the issue going on in the Church that led to his comments?  

 We talked two Sundays ago about the Gnostic movement.  The Gnostic movement was a corruption of Christianity that began late in the first century.  Gnostics believed that salvation came from having a superior knowledge, rather than having faith in Jesus and his work.  Their belief that they had superior knowledge, and that they were on a higher plane this knowledge, led them to an attitude of arrogance, and a practice of isolation.  They didn’t want to be with others who lacked their superior knowledge.  So they were leaving the church.  And they weren’t interested in showing any kind of love toward other believers.  They loved themselves, and they loved their feelings of superiority, but they weren’t acting in love.

 And that’s what love is.  We know what love is because Jesus acted.  Jesus did something.  Jesus chose to lay down his life for us and for our salvation.  Love is not a feeling.  Love is not words.  Love is choices and actions.  Love is self-denying service to one another.  We know what love is because of what Jesus did.  

 And we should do the same.  We should sacrifice of self, deny self, for the good of others.  If necessary, we should lay down our lives for others.  In the context of the Roman Empire in the late first century, that might be a literal commandment.  There

had already been an intense time of persecution of Christians before John wrote this letter.  Peter and Paul and other prominent leaders of the first century Church had already died for their faith.  

 According to Roman law, a non-citizen, and especially a slave, and that’s what many early Christians were, could be tortured for information.  And that was frequently done.  Christians who were arrested as enemies of the state for refusing to worship the emperor as a god were frequently tortured in order to gain information about other Christians.  Some of these early believers were living this out literally, laying down their lives to protect other believers.

 But these words don’t have to be taken literally.  It’s often more difficult to live for someone else than it is to die for someone else.  It’s often more difficult to deny ourselves daily in many small ways than it is to deny ourselves once and be done with it. 

 If we are living comfortably, and we are ignoring the needs of others who are hungry, then we are living without love.  James tells us in chapter two of his epistle:  “If you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Blessings to you!  Stay warm and eat well!’ but you don’t give them food or clothing, what good is that?”  Love is more than feelings, more than words.  Love is a choice to deny self to benefit others.  To have the ability to help others and to refuse to do so is really not so different than starving them yourself.  

 But if we deny ourselves to help others, then we are acting like Jesus as he died on the cross to save others.  We may not be acting like Jesus in degree, it might not cost us our lives, but we are acting like him in principle.  

 Our actions show that we belong to the truth.  We are not saved by our actions, but they demonstrate that we truly know God.  They show the condition of our hearts.  

 What if our hearts condemn us?  What if we feel guilty?  What if we are crushed under the burden of knowing our actions are always falling short?  And the fact of the matter is, they will.  We will always fall short of the love of God.  Does that mean there is no hope for us?  

 Satan can attack us here.  He often attacks us at the level of our conscience.  He makes us feel guilty, creating feelings of inadequacy in us, in the hopes that we will begin to despair and doubt our security in Christ.  

 The good news is that we are saved by God’s grace, not by our feelings.  God knows our hearts.  He knows our intentions.  He knows our longings.  He knows our deepest desires.  The theologian Thomas a Kempis said, “Man sees the deed, but God knows the intention.”  

 It is possible to do the right thing with the wrong intention.  Jesus spoke about that.  He spoke of those who did deeds of piety because they wanted to be seen by other people doing them.  They prayed in public, made a big show of it when they were fasting, they gave gifts that everyone could see, but they did it all with the wrong intentions.  But God knew their hearts.

 It’s also possible to do the wrong thing with the right intentions.  Sometimes we make mistakes.  Sometimes we’re trying to act in love, but because of our limitations, we end up doing the wrong thing.  Probably at some point in our lives, we’ve all tried to do the best we could, with good intentions, and instead we made matters worse.  But God knows our intentions.  

 The heart matters.  And it is important to do our best to keep our conscience clear.  Having a clear conscience gives us confidence before God.  If we are living in his will, then our prayers will be answered, because our prayers will rise out of his will at work in our hearts.  

 What is God’s will?  John tells us in three simple phrases:  First, God’s will is that you believe in Jesus Christ.  Second, that you love one another, just as he commanded, just as he showed us.  We may not always feel like loving one another, but it’s a choice, not a feeling.  It’s our choice to deny ourselves and think more of each other, and to act on that choice.  And third, we obey God’s commandments.  We do what is right.  

 These three things are integrated.  There is no such thing as Christian believing without Christian living.  And the gospel is not complete in us until we are both children of God through Christ, and brothers and sisters in Christ.  

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