"What Does 'Love One Another' Look Like?"
June 7/09 1Jn 2:7-11; 3:11-18; 4:19-21
BARRIERS TO BROTHERLY LOVE
"Love one another," the Bible says - what can be so difficult about that? "Love your neighbour as yourself" - but before you hold me to that, let me tell you about this problem person that keeps bugging me...(!) Loving people would be so much easier if we didn't have to love some of the people we know in particular. A Jewish proverb says, "Love thy neighbour, even when he plays the trombone." Well, for most of us, it's probably not a trombone; but we could sure fill in the blank with a lot of other things - barking dogs; unkempt yards; loud parties that go on to all hours of the night; persistent unwanted phone calls at inconvenient times...and the list goes on. And that's not even starting on the pet peeves pertaining to our relatives! Do we have to love THEM, too?!
Today in 1John we learn a valuable lesson in not just WHY we are to love one another, but also HOW we are to love one another.
WHY LOVE ONE ANOTHER?
First, we are to love one another BECAUSE WE ARE COMMANDED TO. 1Jn 2:7 says, "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." Moses in Leviticus 19(18) wrote God's command, "Love your neighbour as yourself." Jesus reiterated this in His version of the Greatest Commandment along with loving God with our whole being. So being told to love one another is hardly a surprise; it's not new or a novel idea. God has authority to command us to do it because He made us.
Yet the apostle John suggests there is a new aspect to this old command. 2:8, "Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in Him and you..." (NLT) "Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it." Something has changed: since the coming of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, believers have actually seen love lived out, and are receiving God's supernatural power to truly love. There's been a shift: now there's new resources available to put the ol command into practice.
A second reason to love one another is BECAUSE WE ARE IN THE LIGHT. V8 in chapter 2 continues, "...the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness." (1Jo 2:8-9) Here 'light' represents God's nature; as we saw previously in chapter 4, "God is love; whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him." Those who are born again in Christ have His light and love pouring into them through the Holy Spirit, to be shared. By faith we belong to Jesus, not to the devil/murderer like Cain of old (3:12). 3:14 says, "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death." By trusting in the Saviour we've had a dramatic change occur, we're a 'new creation', no longer abiding in death. That's a major shift deep down inside - who we ARE - that issues forth in loving behaviour.
A third reason why we are to love one another - and probably the biggest one - is BECAUSE JESUS FIRST LOVED US. Many people are familiar with John 3:16 - it shows up even at sports events! "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son..." etc. Did you know FIRST John 3:16 likewise is a powerful Good News verse about God's love? In fact, it defines God's kind or degree of love. "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." Love is defined by Jesus laying down His life for us. A corollary of that - something that follows logically - is that we ought, we 'owe it' to God, to lay down our lives for others. NLT: "We know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us; so we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters."
John echoes this a couple of other places later in his letter: 4:11, "since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another;" and 4:19, "We love because he first loved us." Repetition helps us get the point!
A fourth reason why we're to love one another is BECAUSE OUR BROTHER IS THE VISIBLE PROXY OF THE INVISIBLE GOD. (repeat; A proxy is a stand-in or appointed representative, there on behalf of another person.) 4:20, "If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." Loving the visible brother (or sister) is proof of love for the invisible God. Similarly, Jesus has the King say in the parable of the sheep and the goats, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Mt 25:40) And in Matthew 10:40, speaking to the disciples sent out on mission, "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me." Part of the engine behind Mother Teresa's loving service to the dying of Calcutta was recognizing the face of Christ (for her) in the face of the helpless and diseased. And most of those were probably not Christians! How much more should we be aware of ministering to our Lord through showing love to brothers in Christ who have very practical needs - even a cup of cold water. "What you do for one of the least of these, you do for Me."
1John 5(1:2) begins, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well." That makes sense - if you love God, you should love Jesus too. But the apostle takes it even further: if we love the Father, we will love His children (plural) - other Christians: v2, "This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands." So other Christians in need become God's stand-ins or proxies; God brings them into our path so that by loving them, we have opportunity to express our love for Him.
HOW LOVE ONE ANOTHER?
So much for the 'why'; now the 'how' - How are we to love one another?
(1) BY NOT HATING THEM - does that sound obvious, or what?! 2:9, "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness." According to Jesus in the sermon on the mount, we're not to hate even our enemy: popular Jewish wisdom said "love your neighbour and hate your enemy", but the Master taught, "love your enemy..." (Mt 5:43f) What are synonyms for not hating someone? You won't despise them; you won't have contempt for them...hmm, even family members! "Familiarity breeds contempt." Love means we'll show respect for sisters and brothers, not contempt, not running them down or making them feel bad through making fun of them or derogatory terms. Maybe they just irk you because their personality is different - they're a "D" and you're an "S"! That's no reason to ridicule them.
To love another includes not hating them. Martin Luther King Jr was the target of a lot of hate in the racist 1960s. But he said, "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
(2) We love one another BY NOT CAUSING OTHERS TO STUMBLE. 2:10 in the NLT says, "Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble." That parallels some advice by Paul in Romans 14: "Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way...If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love...It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall." See what he's getting at? The primary question is, what effect is this going to have on the other person? If it's going to distress them or cause them to stumble or fall, that's probably not loving.
Fundamentally, love is unselfish. It's able to get beyond thinking always or foremost of myself and MY wants to instead be aware of others' needs - how can I build THEM up?
(3) We love one another BY NOT MURDERING THEM. 3:12, "Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother." Now, that may sound pretty obvious - until you remember what Jesus said about murder. It's not just referring to Victoria Stafford-like crimes! Sometimes we can 'do people in' by what we say - our words become daggers. Mt 5:21f, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, 'is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."
Words have tremendous power to hurt people for years. Carol Weicker spoke at the ABC Women's Breakfast recently; she was born with a facial deformity that required extensive surgery. She was teased and picked on at school because of her appearance. Once the teacher arranged a spelling bee; the boy and girl who won would each get to wear a paper crown, and be the 'king' and 'queen' of the class that day. Carol won so was presented with her crown. But out on the playground, another girl came up to her and said, "You don't deserve to be queen," and grabbed the paper crown and tore it up. That hurt Carol deeply - a few moments of glory dashed by bullying.
Years later, as an adult, Carol came to church one Sunday to discover a paper crown in her church mailbox. Another lady explained that the previous week, the children in Sunday School had made paper crowns for those in the congregation - as 'princes' and 'princesses' in Christ, seated and reigning with Him in the heavenly places. Carol took the crown and set it on the pew beside her while she read her bulletin. But whenever she glanced over at it, she would begin to cry. She tried a few times to quit but it kept happening. She prayed about it and God told her, "I'm restoring your crown." The Lord was healing that wound caused long ago as a child by the other girl's unkind words and actions. Love doesn't murder others.
(4) We love one another BY NOT COMPARING - BEING ENVIOUS OR JEALOUS. Following along in 3:12, "And why did he [Cain] murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous." Hebrews 11(4) says of the incident, "By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did." Not only was Cain spiritually less obedient in offering an inferior sacrifice, he compared himself to Abel, and got very envious, jealous, and resentful as a result. Stop the comparison competition!
Also we can avoid that downward spiral by keeping our life pure and righteous - offering right sacrifices to start with, so we won't be disposed to reject the righteous.
(5) We can love one another BY LAYING DOWN OUR LIVES FOR OUR BROTHERS. As we saw from 3:16, love means laying down (or giving up) our lives for others, as Jesus gave up His life for us. In John 10(11,15) Jesus described how the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, taking the risk of defending the sheep against attackers even if that means putting his own life in danger. Whereas the hireling runs away - protecting his life rather than risking it.
Consider all that Jesus surrendered, all the pain and punishment He took on at the cross for your sake. Pray that God may make your life redemptive or vicarious in the pattern of Isaiah 53(3-8): "Father, grant me to suffer so others may be saved.I want to take up others' infirmities and sorrows even if that means I'm afflicted instead of them.Let the punishment be upon me that brings others peace.Lay on me their iniquity." Who prays like that?!
Paul's letter to the Philippians suggests that if we're united with Christ and comforted by His love, we'll lay down our lives for others, beginning with an unselfish attitude. Php 2:3f, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."
(6) We love one another BY GIVING OUR MATERIAL POSSESSIONS TO THOSE IN NEED. 1Jn 3:17, "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" The Bible in Basic English translates this, "keeps his heart shut against" the needy person; Robertson phrases it, "slamming the door of his compassion". Love shares materially with those in need. Jas 2:16, "If one of you says to [a person without clothes or daily food], 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" That's not love!
We need to guard against 'compassion fatigue' - that's a challenge in an economic downturn, when so many are out of work, charitable agencies are feeling the pinch, and mass mailers and telemarketers continually seek our assistance. Keep praying about how God wants you to share your worldly treasure. Recently I received a phone call expressing appreciation from a person back from surgery, for whom I'd left with a neighbour one of the macaroni & cheese frozen casseroles made by our Women's Ministry. They were very thankful you ladies had given your time and resources.
Not long ago I received an email from someone in the community offering to cover the cost of Yvonne & me going to Ottawa to visit our grandchildren. So thoughtful! They would have happily covered the cost of a flight and hotel; we ended up driving ourselves and just submitting the cost of one night's stay at a B&B. But their generosity was a definite act of love. The mere fact that they were thinking of us meant so much.
(7) We love one another BY GOING BEYOND WORDS TO ACTIONS. 3:18, "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." Don't just say it - do it! This isn't just referring to material donations, but acts of kindness. Thoughtful gestures may cost nothing but speak volumes. For example - how much does a simple card or note cost? How about a phone call, or visit? The cost may be negligible, but the value incalculable. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, some of the sheep's kind deeds involving food and clothing, but some are gifts of time and attention instead: "I was a stranger and you invited me in...I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." How precious is your making the effort to see a person in hospital, a nursing home, or to walk across the street and welcome the person who's new to the community: "You came!"
Parenting is a prime opportunity to show love by giving ourselves - that matters even more than money. Veteran comedian Bill Cosby says on the challenge of being a parent: "Even though your kids will consistently do the exact opposite of what you tell them, you have to keep loving them just as much. To any question about your response to children's strange behaviour, there is really just one answer: give them love. I make a lot of money and I've given a lot of it to charities, but I've given all of myself to my wife and the kids, and that's the best donation I'll ever make." Let's pray.