If you were with us last week, we have been listening together to God’s Word about generosity. We listened to David as he spoke before the assembly of Israel, passing on the mantle of authority to his son, Solomon. David and the people gave to the building of the temple, not out of guilt or duty, but because they believed in the generosity of God. Everything comes from you, David said, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. Generosity is rooted in the generosity of an abundant God.
Last week we looked at generosity toward God and his kingdom. This morning we will be looking at generosity toward our neighbor, particularly our brother and sister in the church. That brings us to 1 John, chapter 3, beginning in verse 11. 1 John is toward the end of the New Testament, toward the end of your Bibles. Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, Three letters from the Apostle John to the churches (we are looking at the first one this morning), then Jude and Revelation. The first letter of John to the churches, chapter 3, beginning in verse 11.
Before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me:
Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.
Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:
For this is the message you heard from the beginning:
We should love one another.
Do not be like Cain,
who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother.
And why did he murder him?
Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.
Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.
We know that we have passed from death to life,
because we love each other.
Anyone who do not love remains in death.
Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer,
and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
This is how we know what love is:
Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
If anyone has material possessions
and sees a brother or sister in need,
but has no pity for them,
how can the love of God be in that person?
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech
but with actions and in truth.
This is how we know we belong to the truth
and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence:
if our hearts condemn us,
we know that God is greater than our hearts,
and he knows everything.
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence before God
and receive from him anything we ask,
because we keep his commands
and do what pleases him.
This is his command:
to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and to love one another as he commands us.
The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him and he in them.
And this is how we know that he lives in us:
We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
What does love look like? I have a series of pictures and I want your help choosing which is more loving. Both might be expressions of love, but I want you to vote on which is more loving. Okay, first one:
Which love is greater? Black Friday in the UK or serving in a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving?
Which is more loving? Sitting next to other people while on your phone (this is known as ‘phubbing’ in case you were curious. Look it up after the service, it’s a real thing) or actually sitting and having a conversation?
Okay, next one. This one is from the last couple days:
On the left is my twitter feed, #HurricanHarvey. It is full of celebrities and average people expressing their sorrow and support after the hurricane hit Texas. On the other hand, we have a police officer carrying two children to safety through waist deep water. Both may be loving, but which is more loving?
How many of you think twitter is more loving? (Silence) No one who has ever been on twitter. How many think the police officer’s actions are more loving?
Okay, last one:
On the one hand, we have a text conversation between Olga and I that shows off my impressive emoji skills (and, evidently, makes her nauseous). On the other hand, we have me doing the dishes. Which is more loving? (Everyone raises their hands at doing the dishes). Husbands, pay attention. Serving is way more loving than a text message.
For the record, that text conversation was fabricated. If anything is not loving, taking a real text conversation between you and your wife, enlarging it, and placing it on a huge screen in front of a group of people would qualify.
What was the difference in every one of the pictures?
(Love takes action. Words v. Action)
What is in your heart will come out – Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth. What is in your heart will come out, it will find its way into the open. If our hearts are filled with love, then it will show. If not, that will show too. Our passage opens with verse 11: This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
Later, John says, This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. At the beginning and at the end of our passage, We are given a similar command: We are called to love one another in the church. What does this love look like?
What does love look like? 1 John 3 teaches us that Christian love is Christ-like, personal, and active. Verse 16: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Love looks like Jesus. Jesus is the model for the kind of love that should be evident in the lives of believers.
This love is first and foremost sacrificial. The image of ‘laying down’ is of taking off a garment and giving it to someone else. Just as Jesus took off his life like a cloak and gave it to us, by dying in our place, we are to take off our lives and give it to others. Not only in his death, but in his life, Jesus constantly gave of himself for the benefit of others. When Jesus heard about the death of John the Baptist, he went off by himself – likely to pray and to grieve. But the crowds followed him on foot. And we are told, when Jesus saw the large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick. As that evening approached, Jesus feed 5,000 of them. Then he went off by himself to pray through the night. After walking across the water, calling Peter out of the boat, saving Peter from drowning, and then calming the storm, Jesus arrives on the other side. The people recognize Jesus and come looking just to touch him in order to be healed. Not only at this death, but in his life, Jesus laid down his life for others, he gave sacrificially for the good of other people.
We are not Jesus. Even our best efforts at love will fall short of his. We follow Jesus at a distance, but we are still called to follow him. Jesus’ love for us should so shape and mold our lives that we should desire to devote our life and also our deaths, first to God, and then to our neighbors.
We do not need to hold our lives close, clutched tightly around us. We can give our life and even our death to serving others.
Paradoxically, Christ-like generosity costs us everything and nothing. It costs everything because we are called to being willing to give up our very lives for the sake of our brothers and sisters. I have it, you need it, its yours. My time, my resources, my energy. In the context of these covenant relationships, we give ourselves to one another. Loving like Jesus costs us.
But on the other hand, it costs us nothing. Our life is hidden with God in Christ. Those who belong to Jesus, who have received his Spirit, can give freely because everything that truly matters has already been secured. It can never be lost. So there is nothing to lose in giving your life for others. It is this eternal security based upon the loving sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, that has propelled Christians for centuries into lives of sacrificial service. It was knowing the blessed assurance of the love of Jesus that sent Mother Teresa to serve the poor, Calvin to preach to refugees, and the company of martyrs and confessors to give up their mortal bodies in love and witness.
Christian love looks like Jesus. It will mean transferring the love of ourselves to our brothers and sisters, forgetting ourselves and seeking the good of others. It is knowing the love of Christ so deeply that it pours out of your heart into love for others.
Because what is in your heart will find its way out. If our hearts are filled with the love of Christ, it will show up in how we treat one another.
Love is evidence of life, lack of love is evidence of death. Verse 14: We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Love becomes the marker of whether you have been raised to life in Christ or not.
Love is what Christians do. They love each other. Jesus said, By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. As the song goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” As the light streaming through these stained glass windows is evidence that the sun is shining, the love of Christians for each other is evidence of the new life they have received by the grace of God. Love is evidence of new life.
If love is evidence of life, lack of love is evidence of death. Verse 14: We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. If love is not evident in our lives, if our interactions with our brothers and sisters are characterized by hate and jealousy, John calls us to question whether our faith was ever genuine in the first place, whether we truly have new life at all. If love is evidence of life, lack of love is evidence of death.
John uses the example of Cain. Verse 12: Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Cain and Abel, the first set of siblings in history, ended with murder because of jealousy. Cain was envious that his brother’s sacrifice was more pleasing to God and, in his jealousy, he murdered his brother. What is in your heart will come out. If it is life, if it is love, then it will show itself in love for others. But if it is jealousy, if it is hatred, then it will find a way out. For Cain, that ended in murder. But even when we do not actively seek to injure or destroy another person, if we want it to happen, even if someone else does it, then we are murderers. Love is evidence of life and hatred is evidence of death.
What is in our hearts will come out. If we are filled with the love of Christ, if we have been raised from the death to life, then it will show up in Christ-like love for others. It will show up in laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters. But if our hearts are not full of love, that will show up too.
Because Christian love is personal and active. Look at verse 17 and 18: If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need, but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth. What is in our hearts will find its way out. I want to tweak the translation of this passage a bit. the NIV says “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them,” but it more accurately says, ‘but closes their heart to them.’ The person described in verse 17 has their eyes wide open, but their heart firmly shut. They see the need around them and have the resources to lay down their life to give it, but their heart is closed.
If our eyes are open and our hearts are closed, then the love of God is not in us. Christian love is personal and active. If we have and our brother or sister has need, but we close our hearts to them, John asks, How can the love of God be in that person? Lack of love for our neighbor reveals a lack of love for God. Love of God is the first and greatest commandment. Loving neighbor is second. But if our love of God never ends up in love of neighbor, then John tells us we need to question the sincerity of our love of God.
And this love is personal. It is more than just feelings. Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth. It is good, but also easy, to say, “I love people.” It is better, and harder, to love the person sitting next to you or across the street. Words are good, but love requires action. If it stays at the level of words, then our words often become an excuse to avoid loving persons, but claiming we love ‘people.’
We cannot love People (with a capital-P), if we do not love the person right next to us; we cannot claim to care for Humanity, while standing on the sidelines when our sister suffers. As Greville Lewis once put it, “It is easier to be enthusiastic about Humanity with a capital “H” than it is to love individual men and women, especially those who are uninteresting, exasperating, depraved, or otherwise unattractive. Loving everybody in general may be an excuse for loving nobody in particular.”
We are called to love our sisters and brothers in the church with a Christ-like love. This is hard work, because the people in the church are often the most uninteresting, exasperating, depraved, and otherwise unattractive people. I know you have all thought it at one point. Why do I come every week to gather with these people? There are so many cooler pastors, cooler people, more interesting conversation partners that I could find. But there are not better brothers or sisters. These are the people we are called to love. Not the people we chose, but those we were given. Not people who will always pay us back, but people we can pour out our lives loving, just as Jesus did for us.
We need the church because this is where Christian love happens. This is one of the reasons we cannot be faithful Christians apart from the church. Christian love happens here, with these people. It happens when children with colds blow snot all over their parents and we love them. It happens when widows come and are loved and not told they are a burden. It happens when homes and lives become open to the single person, the outsider, or the overworked. It happens when you see my burdens and I allow you to help me. And it happens when you let me see yours and let me help you.
Christ-like love begins here, where it is messy and difficult and beautiful and the most fulfilling.
I believe our passage this morning is meant to warn us and encourage us. Love is evidence of life. What is in our heart will find its way out. If there is no love flowing from our hearts to others, then our hearts need to be checked. The ‘love test’ does not give us permission to judge the authenticity of the faith of everyone around us. Instead, it should drive us to Christ and the beauty of his gospel.
The ground of all Christian assurance of faith is Jesus Christ, who died, rose, and ascended for us our salvation and has given us his Spirit. The evidence of that Spirit is love. This is how we know we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: if our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. If our hearts convict us that we have not been walking in the truth, have not been walking in love, God’s eyes are far sharper than ours and he sees more deeply our condition. Then run to Christ, the fount of forgiveness and grace, and receive the Spirit who turns our heart to love God and our neighbor.
And if our hearts and lives show evidence of love. If we look back and see that we show more love today than we did last month, last year, or 5 years ago, then praise God and thank Jesus. The Spirit is working in you.
For each of us, may our hearts be so filled with the love of Christ that it overflows into the very lives of the people around us. May we pour out our lives in service to others, knowing that all that truly matters has already been secured for us in Christ.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.