What you will find is that John is obsessed with how people relate to God and to each other in the church...specifically that they love each other. He uses the word “love” 36X in this little book...more than any other book of the Bible.
John is probably 90 years old by the time he writes this book, and is living in exile on the small island of Patmos. He writes this letter because some false teachers are causing a stir in the church where he was pastor in Ephesus. They condoning an early form of the heresy called Gnosticism. This was the belief that there were normal Christians, and then there were those with special knowledge. That’s where the word Gnosis in Gnosticism comes from...it means “knowledge.”
Many in John’s church were beginning to doubt whether they were doing the right thing. They were confused. They heard John’s message about Jesus. They thought they had everything right, but now, they were beginning to doubt because of these men.
These false teachers believed in a philosophical doctrine called dualism. This is the belief that the material world and the spiritual world are two separate and at odds with each other. The material world is evil and only the spirit could be holy. So this led many of them to be antinomian or “against law.” They believed that as long as they had the right knowledge they were saved so their bodies could do whatever it wanted. Because the spirit is all that matters.
Their walk didn’t match up with their talk.
I suspect that a major part of this was their refusal to love certain people in the community of faith. That really seems to be a major part of what John is talking about. He emphasizes that as God’s light shines in our lives we are cleansed from sin, and through confession we are freed to have genuine, open, honest, loving relationships with others.
But John has to keep coming back to this idea of loving others...it seems to be a problem.
I don’t really get it because we all know that Christians get along so well; right? No. Relationships are tough. They are tough enough with acquaintances, but when you add a close proximity they get even tougher. Have you ever noticed that the biggest fights we have are with the people closest to us? They are always with family, close friends, people we spend a lot of time with.
For those living in the First Century, the church, the community, the Koinonia or fellowship had to become their family because to accept the message of Jesus meant rejection by one’s own family. So this group we call church is meant to be like a family.
Did anyone else grow up in a church where people called each other Brother or Sister? It was meant to represent that when we become part of the community of faith we are part of God’s family. And like it or not, families fight. I always say, “Family, you can’t live with them, and you can’t bury them in your backyard.” I’m joking, mostly. It would ruin the grass. And you would run out of room.
So we have this church that is struggling with doubt, dealing with false teachers, and beginning to bicker amongst themselves...so we come to today’s passage.
Let’s read 1 John 2:3-11,
3 We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
John is building a case in this passage.
1. Walking in truth (light) means to be obedient to Christ’s commands.
2. Christ’s command is to love one another.
3. Failure to love is hate.
Let’s look at the first two things real quick and then focus on John’s third and final point and what this all means for us.
Walking in truth (light) means to be obedient to Christ’s commands.
Last week we read, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
The way to know if you are walking in the light is to test your actions...are you doing the commands of Christ?
The minute we start talking about “doing” something is the minute someone wants to pull the card that says, “You are talking about works, and you can’t earn your salvation by doing anything!” They are right. You can’t earn your salvation. Nothing you do can earn your salvation. But they are playing the wrong card at the wrong time. It is like laying down the King of Spades in the middle of an Uno game...you are playing with the wrong deck of cards. We are not talking about earning anything...we are talking about what characterizes someone who has been saved.
For John, a person knows they are saved if they are obeying Christ’s commands.
Here is the difference. Earning your salvation means “I do Christ’s commands, therefore God owes me salvation and heaven!” John is saying, “We are saved, therefore we do Christ’s commands!” See the difference? It so small but so huge at the same time.
This is really a heart issue because two people can be doing the same exact thing and one of them is attempting to earn their salvation and the other living out of response to God’s salvation. It is Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” This is an obedience that comes from a transformed heart...not an obedience done to earn something.
v.3 Says, “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.” This is a love that expresses itself in action...John is really talking about assurance...knowing that you know that you are saved. Those who are trying to earn their salvation never really know whether they are saved...I hope I’m ok. I mean I serve the poor and hurting. I tell people about Jesus. I go to church every Sunday. I don’t know, know. But I do a lot of good.
John is saying, You can know that you know that you know...because out of your heart you are doing Christ’s command. He knows that we will not get it perfect. We talked about that last week...that is why confession is so important. So it isn’t getting everything right all the time. But our actions demonstrate that we are growing ever closer to God.
I meet people all the time that tell me how much they believe in Jesus and are looking forward to heaven...then you find out they are getting drunk all the time or they are stealing from their job or they are doing all this stuff that you know Christians are meant to move aways from. And it isn’t that they are “sinning” its that they feel no compulsion to stop...there is no desire to live as Christ wants them to live. Their stated belief in Christ does not show up in their lives.
And don’t think these are people just outside the church. They said that prayer however many years ago, and yet they are fine with their prejudices, and pride, and lack of love for others, and self-centered religiosity, and they feel no compulsion to try to live as Christ wants them to live. Their stated belief in Christ does not show up in their lives.
Walking in the truth, walking in the light of God, means that we are learning more and more to be obedient to Christ’s commands. In John’s words, “But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them.” God moves to save us, we respond with obedience, and then God is able to finish His work in us...He is able bring His love to completion within us. Because out ultimate goal is live Christlike lives.
The key command is Christ’s command is to love one another.
For John, the command to love the neighbor had been a new command...he heard it live when Jesus spoke it. And I can imagine that as he wrote this book to the Church in Ephesus that he could hear Jesus’ voice speaking it to him all over again.
So John writes, “Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”
This command is an old command, but it was new to John 70 years before he wrote this as he listened to Jesus. And John is writing to a whole new generation of believers...so while the command to love one’s neighbor is old...it must be declared all over again for a new generation. This command that is more than 2,000 years old must be made new for each generation.
Jesus did something no one had ever done before. He took Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 and put them together.
Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
Leviticus 19:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
So as John is writing this new generation of believers to remind them we are called to love God, but we are also called to love our neighbors...this is the command of Christ that encompasses all the other commands. We get these two right...we get them all right.
This requires two very important things, which we talked about last week, and John reminds them of very quickly again... “Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.”
There is that connection between confession and fellowship.
We talked last week about the word John uses which we translate as “fellowship.” The word koinonia was so much more than just hanging out...it was a community of people who knew each other at their best and worst and loved them anyway...they were committed to them...loyal to them.
And within this fellowship confession to God and one another are big parts of making the community function as Christ intended. That is why the Matthew 18 principle was meant to work so well. Matthew 18 tells us that when we have issues with someone, we are to go to them and talk to them about their offence. If that doesn’t do it, then we take two or three others as witness and judges to evaluate and make recommendations. If that doesn’t correct the situation, the one in the wrong is asked to leave the community because their refusal to confess and change direction disrupts the entire fellowship.
This is a community built on loving each other and confessing so that we can live in the light together...and move on to growth in Christlikeness.
Our next point is where we need to spend the majority of our energy this morning...
Failure to love is hate.
Hate seems like such a harsh word...how many of us really hate someone? There are people that we dislike extremely. We like everybody else a whole lot better, but hate?
I mean we throw that word around, I hate that restaurant...I hate that football team (Michigan)...I hate this or that...The closest we come is when someone hurts, angers, or wrongs us in some way. There is an anger and pain that comes with that, and we experience a form of hatred. We can’t see them or even hear their name mentioned without this intense feeling welling up inside of us.
Modern brain research tells us that love and hate are located in the same region of our brains...but the brain activity lasts longer when hatred is experienced than when love is experienced.
Philosophers have recognized the power of hatred for a long time.
Aristotle defined hatred as “A dislike for someone based on our negative perception of that person’s nature that is so intense that whoever feels it wants to cause real harm to another.”
I think the Apostle John would agree with Aristotle...in a way. John would definitely say that hatred is seen in our wanting to do harm to another person. But John goes a step further...and this is where it gets touchy for you and me...This is where God has to step in and transform our common notions of love and hate.
John believes that not doing good to [not loving] others is doing harm to them...and therefore hate.
Did you get that? If I see someone and do not do good to them, then I am demonstrating hatred toward them.
For most of us, we believe Aristotle’s definition and live out of it every single day. I don’t like that person so I will not even go around them. I don’t want to be near them, hear them...they are as good as dead to me. We are not actively seeking to harm...we just ignore them. We are cold toward them, ignoring them, acting like they don’t exist. Therefore we don’t really hate them.
There are some who do actively seek to harm those they hate...we have seen the power of homophobia, racial prejudice, sexism, bullying...the list could on and on of people who out of hatred...out of their perception of a person’s nature...seek to do them harm.
But for most of us we express our hatred in a calm, neglect of the person.
But John reminds us that not doing good to others is the same as doing harm to them. When we refuse to do good for others...we are doing them harm. When we refuse to love others...meet the needs of others...help the hurting of others...we are doing harm, and we are demonstrating hatred toward them.
And when hatred creeps into our lives...the darkness surrounds us so that we “don’t know where we are going, because the darkness has blinded us.”
As I prepared for this message, I was reminded of the classic Pink Floyd song “On the Turning Away.” If you haven’t heard it...you have to. I posted it up on my blog earlier this week. They get what John is saying...that a failure to do good...that a failure to love...that a failure to care...that when we turn away from the pain and hurt of others...we are hating them.
Now that is tough...isn’t it? I am content to just not be near them. To ignore them. I thought I was fine doing that.
But we are called to be a community that does not turn away from others.
As a church, that is why we believe so strongly in serving and caring and loving our community...we want to demonstrate love to our neighbor. It must be in our DNA as a church to care. Which means it has to be in my DNA...my values...to not turn away from the pain of others.
And this should not just be something we practice just to those on the outside...this is an inward thing too. It starts with us loving those in the seat next to us...across the room from us...we need to love and demonstrate that love in practical ways.
What a powerful reminder from John...when we refuse to show love to someone God has placed in our path or put us in community with we are actually hating them. That’s tough because I would rather ignore those I don’t like.
So how do we do this?
- We do like the flyers says...We must accept people as they are and love them. People don’t need to clean up to come to church. They don’t need to have everything right before God will accept them. They just have to come to Him. We need to create safe places where people can openly talk about their doubts and fears and sins and find forgiveness and healing. We must be a place with a come as you are you’ll be loved philosophy. We must be people who are safe to talk to.
- We must be a place of Gospel-centered community. We are all part of various communities that have nothing to do with the Gospel. We have knitting groups, bowling leagues, golfing buddies, jobs...all kinds of communities. As a church we are different...we must provide a place where people are welcomed and accepted, but where the Gospel begins to work in each person’s life transforming them into living more and more Christlike lives. This happens best in community. This happens as we grow together, challenge each other, pray for and with each other, and allow people to stumble and love them anyway. This is why we are working so hard to get some new small groups up and running in the next few weeks.
We need to be places where people can share their hurts and pains and know that the people in the group with them are going to love them and care for them no matter what.
- We must serve others. As a church we serve both inside and outside of the church. Every Sunday morning between 4-8 people show up to get everything out of here and get the chairs set up, the sound system running, and the coffee brewing so that we can have church. We have teachers who love and care for our children while we worship and hear God’s Word. We need people to serve in these areas so that the Crossroads Vineyard can function. We need more people to sign up to serve.
We also serve outside the walls of the church. Yesterday we served more than 100 families in the Huber Heights area with food. We are having a prayer training event next Saturday at the local library to help us know how to pray for other when we are serving. We will be giving away Halloween candy, and Thanksgiving Dinners, and we are working on finding a family or two to adopt at Christmas. I believe the church has holed up behind the walls for too long.
But all of this needs to spill over into our lives. We have families and jobs and neighbors and a world around us that needs us to serve and love them as we go about our regular, average days...and not just when we are part of a church outreach.
So we have these three powerful reminders:
1. Walking in truth (light) means we are obedient to Christ’s commands.
2. Christ’s command is to love one another.
3. Failure to show love to our neighbor is showing hatred.
This morning I want to invite you to think about the person you have been ignoring out of dislike. You haven’t worked to do them harm...you have just been ignoring them.
Now, confess that hatred to God. That’s what it is so let’s call it that.
Now, this week, find some way to begin demonstrating love to them in a practical way. Send them a card. Write them an email. Do something tangible and practical.
Some may say, I don’t know of anybody. I try not to turn away. There isn’t anyone I feel ill will for and there is no one I can think of that I am ignoring because I don’t like them. That’s great. Then you can just store this message away for another day...because we will all need to deal with this at some time.
For more information about Crossroads Vineyard Church in Huber Heights check us out online at www.daytoncrossroads.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/daytoncrossroads