One of the challenges many of us struggle with is learning people’s names. We are all pretty good about introductions the first time. Unfortunately, the next time you see that person, we find ourselves scrambling to remember their names. After the third or fourth time of not remembering their name, we are so embarrassed that we can’t remember, that we bluff our way through the conversation hoping for some hint that will trigger that illusive memory. This is why we are often asked to wear tags that say, “HELLO My Name is ___________” It gives us a chance to not only hear a person’s name but to see it again and again. For those of you who have not quite locked in someone’s name here at worship this morning . . . pay close attention to those nametags!
Memory experts tell us that we should always repeat a person’s name during an introduction (Well it is great to meet you Bob Black from Mediapolis). They also suggest that you ask the person an identifying question using their name (like “What nationality does the name Goettsche come from? Or “Tell me Sally, are you visiting someone or do you live in the area”?) The answer for this question will help you recall information about the person. And of course, the more you repeat the name, the better the chance that you will remember it the next time.
Repetition is the key to learning. No one was better at this than the rabbis. In fact, the “Rabbinic method” is a teaching style that emphasizes repetition. This seems to be the method John is using in 1 John. In the course of this letter he hits several topics over and over. He wants us to “get it”. He has already talked to us about love and now we hit that topic again. Let me say, we still won’t be done with the topic.
When you order an automobile you know that there are some things that are standard equipment and other things that are “optional”. You have to take the standard stuff and you can add the “optional items” (if you are willing to pay for them). In a sense, John wants us to understand that love is “standard equipment”. There are a lot of other options in the Christian life but love is required.
This morning we will look at two examples of love: a negative example in Cain and a positive example in Jesus. Then we will draw some applications.
A NEGATIVE EXAMPLE
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.
John didn’t have to search far in the Bible for an example of one who lacked love. He went to Genesis 4 to the story of the first person born on the earth. As you remember, Adam and Eve were created by God. Their first child, according to Genesis, was Cain. He had another brother named Abel. Cain murdered his brother Abel. Literally the Hebrew words mean he “slit his throat”. Why? What horrible thing could have happened that would lead one brother to kill another?
In Genesis we learn that Abel offered a sacrifice that was acceptable to God and Cain offered one that was not acceptable. John tells us “Cain’s actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.”
We don’t know for sure why Cain’s offering was unacceptable to the Lord. It was either the wrong kind of offering (and Cain knew it), or it was an offering that was presented with the wrong attitude. Either way the problem wasn’t with Abel, it was with Cain. Cain could have corrected the problem. Instead he was angry that Abel pleased God and he didn’t.
Let’s try to draw a picture. Suppose you and your neighbor have big lawns. You mow your lawn when you have to. Your neighbor however, mows, trims, puts fertilizer and weed killer on his lawn and takes great pride in making his lawn look the best. People who drive by you homes always comment on how wonderful his lawn looks. They sometimes give you a hard time that your lawn looks so terrible compared to his lawn.
You could go out and get weed killer, fertilizer and give a little more time to your lawn. However, you decide it would be easier to simply kill the neighbor. That way his lawn will become just as bad as your own.
Seem silly? That’s what Cain did. Instead of changing his actions, he chose to eliminate the one who was “making him look bad” by doing what was right. He decided to kill his brother rather than change his ways. He tried to lower the standard of holiness to where he was living his life.
John drives home a point. He said, “don’t be surprised my brothers, if the world hates you.” (v.13) Jesus said something very similar,
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
The world is not going to hate us because we are good. Generally speaking the world admires good people. They believe they themselves are/or could be, good people. The world applauds and honors people who act in good and noble ways.
Jesus says the world will hate us because we belong to Him. When we live God’s way the light of Christ exposes the darkness in the life of the non-believers soul. When we live God’s way there is a stark contrast between us and the rest of the world. The life of the believer confronts a non-believer with their own sinfulness. Rather than repent, they often choose to attack the messenger. This is why Jesus was killed. Rather than reform their ways, it was easier to simply eliminate Jesus and continue to think of themselves as doing fine.
John now takes a sudden turn in his argument.
Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. (v.15)
Again, Jesus said something very similar,
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 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, (a term of contempt)’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. [Mt. 5:21-22 italics added]
John’s point is pretty direct: when we fail to love others we are acting just like Cain. When we harbor bad feelings, when we hate or attack another we are refusing to do what is right just like Cain. When we tear down someone’s character, when spotlight faults to make ourselves look better, it is a murderous attitude and it is sin. Listen to these pointed words from Dr. Lloyd-Jones,
Listen to people’s conversations. You do not know them, but listen to them as they are talking about somebody else. Listen to the spite and the malice and the envy. Look at their eyes; there is murder in them. They may not actually commit murder, but the principle is there. I am not condemning such poor people; I am sorry for them. Look at the faces of the people who are always criticizing somebody else. Look at them; they cannot see themselves. That is the tragedy. If only they saw the ugliness and the venom! Pray for them; have pity on them; they are of the devil, and they are living in malice, hating and hateful. What a terrible, horrible life that is.
On the other hand, John continues,
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. [v. 14]
When we love each other, we give evidence that we are genuine followers of Christ. When we love our enemies we show that the love of Christ is in us. When we love, we prove that we are real deal disciples. This kind of love can only come from God’s Spirit.
THE POSITIVE EXAMPLE
John has shown us the negative (what we shouldn’t do) and now he looks at this truth from the positive side. . . what we should do.
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. (v.16)
If we want to know what it means to love, we need to look at the life of Jesus. The kind of love we are supposed to have toward each other is different from the love of the world.
Loving one another is not the same thing as liking one another. Liking another person is something that happens naturally. We connect with some people and not with others. Some personalities mesh and others seem to clash. Liking someone is a physical and emotional thing. Love, however, is a spiritual and supernatural thing.
As we look at Jesus’ life we can see several characteristics of his love,
- It was without discrimination. Jesus loved all kinds of people. He showed love to the rich and to the poor. The healthy and the diseased. The Jew and the Gentile. Jesus did not see labels and stereotypes. He only saw people.
- It was offered freely. Jesus didn’t require that people love Him first. Once he healed a man of blindness and when the man was asked who healed him, the man didn’t know.
- It was filled with compassion. Jesus cried at the tomb of Lazarus. He touched the leper. He raised the widows’ son. He reached out to the demon possessed man who had been sent to live a secluded life in a cave. He felt the people’s pain.
- It was enduring (it didn’t give up when we failed). Jesus continued to love the disciples (even Judas) even though at times they didn’t seem to have a clue.
- It was sacrificial. John puts the focus on the greatest illustration of love, the death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no man than this, that He give up His life for His friends.”
- It was transforming. When Jesus loved people, they were changed. No one who met Jesus was ever the same again. The one thief on the cross was granted Heaven. The Roman guard recognized that Jesus was the Son of God. Countless lives that previously had been “thrown away” were now made new.
This kind of love could be called “Extreme Love”. It is the kind of love that is willing to give its life for another.
October 2, 2006, was a dark day for the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. That morning, a local milkman named Charles Carl Roberts barricaded himself inside the West Nickel Mine Amish School. He was armed with three guns, knives, and over 600 rounds of ammunition. When police attempted to intervene less than half an hour later, Roberts opened fire on 11 girls—all less than 14-years-old—killing 5. After these brutal acts, he turned his weapon on himself and committed suicide.
It was a dark hour, but as more news became available in the days that followed, a new story began to emerge—one full of courage, faith, and love. According to two of the survivors, when 13-year-old Marie Fisher began to understand what Charles Carl Roberts intended to do, she made a request. “Shoot me first,” she said, “and leave the other ones loose.” As the oldest child in the group, she hoped that her death might somehow spare the other children or provide more time for their rescue.
Immediately after this request, Marie’s younger sister Barbie added one more. “Shoot me second,” she said.
News of the girls’ bravery and sacrificial love impacted millions of people across the country after the story broke. But according to Rita Rhoads, a local midwife close to the family of the two girls, their faith also affected their attacker. “He asked them to pray for him,” Rhoads said. “I think that’s amazing. He recognized they had something he didn’t.”
Not a one of us knows how we would have responded in a similar circumstance. What these girls did was an act of supernatural love. It was the love of Christ shining through them. This is the kind of love God wants all of us to have.
We recognize (gratefully) that most of us will never have to face such a crisis. We may never be put in a position to give our life for to another. However, John wants us to know that love is not always extreme, sometimes it is very practical. Look at 3:17-18,
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? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. [3:17-18]
If John were writing today he might say, “Look, let’s not just have sermons or seminars or even training classes on love . . . let’s get out there and do something!”
Notice several things in John’s instruction.
- Love involves giving what we have received. John says, “If anyone has material possessions”. Love is practical. Our job is to share what has been given to us. Love means being generous rather than selfish. It is looking for ways to share rather than to accumulate. Love recognizes that everything we have is given to us by God. It is a tool we can use to help others.
- Love involves empathy. We need to notice others. John says, “he sees his brother in need…and has pity on him”. Pity in this case is not a negative thing. It is feeling the hurt of another. It is entering into their world. We need to notice the pain of another. We need to look into the eyes of other people and see the pain. We need to see past the bad reputation and feel their hurt. We need to look past the abrasive personality and hear the cry that is being covered up. Much of the reason we don’t love is because we don’t see how desperately love is needed. We are like those who sit in the window of a fancy restaurant who don’t even notice the faces of the homeless children looking in the window. We need to notice others.
- Love requires action. Isn’t this what the parable of the Good Samaritan is about? The priest and Levite (who could probably give excellent talks about love) walk past the injured man on the road. It was the Samaritan that stopped to do something. The Samaritan was the one who truly loved his neighbor. All around the world hospitals, clinics, orphanages, and schools have been started by Christians. People who love DO something.
Does this make you uncomfortable? It makes me uncomfortable. God is telling us that following Him means learning to see others through His eyes. It means
- Being a friend to the one who has failed
- Helping a person who has a need
- Being strong for one who is weak
- Listening to the one who needs to talk
- Being patient with one who is confused
- Being involved with the one who is rejected
- Being kind to the one who is angry
- It means stepping out of our comfortable world into the world of the hurting.
- It means spotlighting strengths rather than weaknesses
- Building a bridge to one who has not yet trusted Christ.
God is more concerned about how we love than He is with our polished programs or stirring sermons. God is more concerned with our hearts, our hands, and our feet, than He is with what others say about us. He is more concerned with what we do in private than what we do in public. Love is the “standard equipment” of a real deal Christian.
It seems to me that we need to change our approach to people. Perhaps instead of wearing nametags that say “My Name Is ________”, we should wear a name tag that says: “My Name is _____: How May I Help You?” Instead of wanting people to know us, we should want to know them. We need to develop a service mentality. We must diligently look for any opportunity to show mercy, grace, kindness or love to hurting people. We must begin in the church with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but must not keep our love within these walls. If we develop this kind of a mindset we will build bridges rather than walls. We will draw people to the Lord rather than push them away. We will plant seeds of life and hope rather than seeds of indifference and hate. And we will be more like Jesus than Cain.