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TEXT: I John 2:7-14
SUBJECT: I John #5: To Love is to Know
How do you identify a Christian? Well, that's an easy one: a Christian is one who (1) has a cross tattoo on his bicep, (2) a Christmas tree in his living room, and (3) a 'Praise the Lord' on the tip of his tongue. These are the distinguishing marks of knowing God.
I'm grateful that some of you laughed at my joke, but I told it to make you think. Of course, these are not the marks of God's saving grace, but if they're not, what is? Is it baptism? An affiliation with a church? Not drinking, smoking, or dancing? Voting Republican? Worrying about the ozone layer? What are the visible signs of knowing God in Christ?
We all have our own criteria for making that call, but are our standards the same as God's? Has the Lord Himself distinguished His people from others in ways we can more or less recognize?
He has-and this is largely what I John is about. He tells us near the end, 5:13-
These things I have written to you who believe in the Son of God, that you may know you have eternal life.
As an eye-and-ear witness of our Lord, John has passed His teaching on to us, including His teaching on who belongs to God-and who doesn't! Hypocrisy and self-deception were as much a problem then as they are now. For two thousand years, people have been saying-
While a good many of them are not His disciples, do not have eternal life now, and will forever suffer what sounds so strange to us-
The wrath of the Lamb.
Throughout his First Epistle, John tells us who knows God and who doesn't, and nowhere more than in Chapter 2. Here, he presents three tests of belonging to God. They are what John Stott calls: (1) the moral test, the (2) social test, and (3) the doctrinal test. In vv.3-6, we have the moral test; for all our very real faults, the people who belong to God keep His commandments, albeit not as often or as deeply as we should. Still, we are-
Now, in vv. 7-14, we have the social test, how we interact with other people, and in particular, other Christians, especially the ones in our local church.
Before he gets to the test, however, he reminds us of who we are, and who we are-to him. We are John's-
Following different manuscripts, some Bibles say 'brethren', but the preferred reading, most scholars say, is Beloved. Still, it doesn't make all that much difference, because in a culture that prized family more than anything, brethren means more-or-less the same thing as beloved.
In other writers, calling his readers, Beloved brethren could be nothing more than a way of getting them on your side. This is not worthy of an Apostle, and it's not what John is doing. He wants his people to know that they are dear to him; that they're not simply names on a roll; they're real persons whom John really loves.
His love for them is not based on ignorance. That is, John doesn't love them only because he doesn't know them very well. He does know them very well! And still, he loves them. John is a man we can respect! Unlike so many preachers (including myself sometimes), he practices what he preaches. If he calls the people to love one another, he also calls them his Beloved.
Then we have his command, and the first thing you notice about it is that.it's not there! John mentions commandment no less than four times, but he never tells us what it is.
Because he doesn't need to. All of his readers knows which commandment he has in mind. It's the one Jesus gave near the end of Holy Week, John 13:34-
A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
In vv.7-8, John twice calls this commandment new; but he also calls it old, also twice. And so, which is it? Is the command to love one another old or new?
The answer is: both. It is old in the sense that, it was one of the first things Jesus taught the Apostles. Thus, unlike the heretics who are making up new teachings every day, this teaching goes back to the beginning of the Christian era, back to Christ Himself! And, being rooted in Scripture, Jesus takes it back to Moses, and really, back to the beginning of human history. To love one another has always been a command of God, with no command broken more often or more grievously.
I don't have to prove this to you, do I? John himself mentions Cain who did not love his brother, but envied and finally murdered him. He might also have named Adam who blamed Eve for his own disobedience. Or David, who had no love for Uriah the Hittite, or Ahab who hated Elijah's guts!
The commandment is, therefore, on old one. But it is also new. This takes us into the realm of Biblical Theology, one of the most vital, but also, one of the most neglected disciplines of interpretation.
When John calls the commandment new, he does not mean it's only sixty or seventy years old. He means that it is part of the New Age! What Age? The Kingdom Age, the Age that the first coming of Christ ushered in.
As a boy in church, I was always told that we were in the last days, by which my pastors meant the last few years before the coming of Christ. But it's been more than a few years since I was a boy, and I doubt any of my pastors thought the world would last till 2018. But, for all their wrong-headed calculations, they were right about The Last Days or The End of the World. We are in that time, but then, so was John way back in 90 AD or thereabouts.
For The End of the World does not mean the end of dirt or rocks, kittens or people. It means the End of the Age. What Age? It's what Paul styles-
This present evil age.
John makes the same point here, but instead of saying it's evil, he calls it dark. This darkness is on the way out! It's being pushed out by the True Light that has already come. Think about it; this is the very nature of light. Go to the darkest place in the world, maybe a cave hundreds of feet underground. Now, turn on the flashlight you bought at Dollar Tree. What happens? The thick darkness does not overcome the cheap flashlight; it's the other way around. Even the faintest light dispels darkness.
This True Light that came into the world is Christ, and His light is anything but faint. John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel that, try as it may, the darkness of sin and death did not-and could not-overcome the Light! The KJV says the darkness did not comprehend it, and while this is a true doctrine, the word should be 'overcome' or 'suppress', maybe 'extinguish' that Light!
Our Lord's Light was chiefly seen in His love for the brotherhood, for people who did not deserve it, who disappointed Him, misunderstood Him, and finally, forsook Him, with one cursing and swearing that he had no idea who this fellow, Jesus, was!
This is the quality of love that we're called to practice in the church. Not loving people who love us, loving the lovable, loving people we can get something from, but loving people who get on your nerves, loving people who don't agree with your politics, loving people who never pick up the check, who stay too late, who don't return your calls. Even people who sometimes talk behind your back, and are not as loyal to you as you are to them.
This is what it means to love others as Christ loves us. Obeying this Old and New Commandment-John says-is one of the surest marks of belonging to God.
John is not a naïve man; he knows not everyone who says he belongs to God, in fact, does belong to Him. Some say they very much walk in the light, but when John sees them hating the brethren, he knows they're not in the light. Here, he has a chance to 'cut them some slack', to put the best possible construction on their unloving ways. But he doesn't. He doesn't say they're basically good men who need to put a finer point on their love, he says they're-
Because, whatever they say to the contrary, the man who does not love the brotherhood does not know the Light-and, I might add, the Light does not know him! There are inconsistencies in the best man's life. But John says knowing God and hating your brother is not inconsistent or incoherent or incongruous, it is flat-out impossible!
For everyone who lives in the Light of Christ lives like Christ, to some degree. And that means, to some degree, loves the Lord's People. It was Gandhi, that so-called spiritual giant who said-
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.
John says, 'Sorry; they're a package deal'. You cannot love the invisible God without also loving his visible people-with all our visible faults, I John 4:20.
THE MEANING OF LOVE
John doesn't tell us precisely what this love is, because he doesn't need to spell it out. It's the attitude that Jesus had toward the disciples and what He did for them. Christ is what it looks like to love others. It means to be patient with them, to overlook most of their faults; to call them on the ones you cannot overlook; it means to forgive them, it means to put their interests above your own. In a word, it means to-
Lay down your life for the brethren.
Jesus did this in the ultimate way, by going to the Cross in our place. We cannot do this, but we can inconvenience ourselves to help others; we can open our wallets, open our homes, open our sympathy. We can do these things, and more than 'can do them', we must do them. For this is one of the hallmarks of discipleship, one of the obvious ways that we-and others-can be sure we know God.
If you read the history of the Early Church, you'll see they believed all kinds of kooky things and did many things that were very much out of keeping with the Bible. But for all this, the world, people who otherwise despised or even hated Christ, had to say-
The Christians! Behold, how they love one another!
I don't know where all this leaves you, but me? It leaves me broken. I don't have to confess all my shortcomings in brotherly love, because you all know them only too well. Some of us have known each other for more than thirty years, and you know my faults, as I know yours. And so, in light of our-what shall I call it? Our mixed record-we have to wonder if we truly belong to God.
I would be hard pressed to say that I do. Until I read vv.12-15, where I'm told that these Christian (who were no better than we are), are-
Forgiven, know the Father, are strong, know Christ, and have overcome the wicked one.
We are sorry excuses for Christians, but we sorry excuses have been loved by God, redeemed by Christ, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit! This is how we know God-not because we love others-but because He loved us and gave up His Only Begotten Son for our salvation.
Knowing this love ourselves, we turn in love to others; to neighbors, to enemies, but especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Words of warning and exhortation have their place, but the only thing that will cause us to love one another is believing that-
Christ loved me, and gave up His life for me.
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