Perhaps you have heard the saying, “love makes the world go around.” It’s a nice thought but you have to admit we have reason to question whether it is true. The world we live in seems to be fueled not by love but animosity. There are wars, terrorists, and violence it seems, on every side. Every election year we have to endure political ads that are fueled more by attacks than by ideas. Businesses initiate hostile takeovers to eliminate their competition. Even churches seem to market themselves as “better than” the other guys. It doesn’t sound like love to me.
In our study of 1 John we are being taught that a true believer is someone who is different from the crowd. John has been painting for us a series of contrasts
- The true believer holds to concrete truth rather than philosophical theories
- The genuine follower tries to build their life on Christ rather than simply fitting God into their schedule.
- The true believer is honest about sin rather excusing it.
- The true believer seeks to honor God by diligently seeking to obey God’s Word instead of presuming upon God’s grace.
This morning we add another dimension to the description of a true believer. We will see that a true believer loves others. John begins this section with a rather confusing statement,
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 you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. [1 John 2:7-8]
It sounds a little like doubletalk, doesn’t it? The command that John is talking about is the command to love. In Leviticus 19:18 the Israelites were told, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” It’s a command that had been around for a long time.
It is an old commandment, why does John focus on it? I can think of two reasons. Perhaps John simply wanted to underline the importance of love. He had just told us about the importance of obeying the commands of God. Since there are hundreds of commands in the Bible, it’s possible that John wanted to say, in essence, “Start here”.
It’s also possible that John focused on this command because this old command had been given a new dimension. A musician will hear a piece of music in a whole new way when they hear it played by a great orchestra. A food dish you’ve eaten for years bursts with new flavor when prepared by a master chef. When you play a sport with a professional you redefine what it means to be “good”. In any field when you are around someone who excels you find that the bar is raised and your perspective is altered.
Have you ever seen the Magic Eye books? They look like a meaningless mess of color on a piece of paper. Hidden in that mess of color is actually a cool 3D picture. The picture is always there but you have to learn how to see it. You have to look at the picture in a different way than you are used to looking at it.
John is trying to help us to see what was previously unseen. He wants us to understand love in a whole new way because of Jesus. He says the light is seen “in him and in you”. Christ opens up a whole new understanding of love. He helps us see what we could not see before. Let me list some of the new dimensions of love because of Jesus.
The Bible tells us that the natural man (those who do not trust and follow Christ) CANNOT understand the things of the Spirit.
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)
Think about it this way. It is a very difficult thing for a deaf person to learn to talk because we learn to talk largely through imitation. If you can’t hear sounds, you can’t refine the sounds you make so they are intelligible to another. However, if that same person is given an implant, a hearing aid or is able to have some other kind of surgery that restores all or part of their hearing, they can learn to speak clearly.
The person who has not trusted Christ is like that deaf person. We make a mistake when we preach Christian morality to them and encourage them to live like Jesus. They don’t get it. They can’t understand. To them it is jibberish. It is like trying to reason with a dog. It doesn’t matter how good your arguments are or how polished your presentation, the dog isn’t going to understand.
Back to the Magic Eye pictures. Until you learn how to focus differently to see what is hidden, all you see is a confusion of color. People who talk about seeing horses, soccer players, rabbits and a mountain range sound like fools to us. We don’t get it and we don’t see it.
The unbeliever is unable to truly love because they don’t understand what love really means. John tells us that Jesus, if you will, now helps us to see with “magic eyes”.
THERE IS A NEW MOTIVE
People have always tried to be loving to others. They believe being kind to others brings kindness in return (and that is usually true). They think if they are nice to other people they will earn Heaven. But in both cases notice the motivation? The motivation is selfish. Love is motivated by what we hope to gain. God’s love is motivated to reveal God to others.
You have certainly heard the studies that show that children who grow up around abuse tend to be abusers. It is a learned behavior. The only thing that can break this cycle is for these children to experience true love. These people cannot be truly loving until they have experienced love personally.
It’s the same thing for us when it comes to loving each other. We can nice, we can learn to be polite, we can embrace various techniques, but we cannot love like Jesus until we have been personally transformed by God’s grace.
So let’s ask the obvious question: have you experienced the love of God in your life? Have you become convinced that Jesus died for you? Have you experienced His grace? Have you received his sacrifice on your behalf and have you determined that you will follow him in life? If not, then this is the place to start. Before you can love as Jesus did, you need to receive and experience the love of Jesus. If you have never done so, I encourage you to open your heart to the Savior today. Stop running. Be honest about your need for His forgiveness and love. Let Him love you and make you new. His promise is that He will not reject ANYONE who sincerely trusts Him. God will place His Spirit within you and you will for the first time start to understand what true love is, and then you will be eager to introduce that love to others.
There is now a new Urgency to love. John writes,
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. (9-10)
Love shows we belong to God. John tells us that one of the ways to tell if we belong to God is by the love we show to others. This is because true love does not come naturally! Competition comes naturally. Respect doesn’t come naturally; manipulation does. Helping others does not come naturally; helping ourselves does. When we do what is “unnatural” we show that we have God’s Spirit inside of us. We show that something “supra-natural” or beyond the natural is taking place inside of us. They see that something supernatural is in us.
Anyone can say they are gifted in music. Anyone can believe they are gifted musically. However, the real evidence is when they play their instrument or begin to sing. It is the same way with the Christian. Anyone can say or believe they belong to Jesus Christ. The true evidence is when we start to see Jesus manifested in the life of the one making the profession.
Second, we have a new sense of urgency because love is our greatest testimony to the world. Jesus told his disciples,
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” [John 13:34-35]
John does not tell the disciples that the world will know we are disciples of Jesus because of our theological explanations, our political activism, our thriving programs, our growing church or our rich talents. The world will know that we are Christians by the love that we show to each other and to the world.
When the people outside of the family of God observe bickering, gossip, plotting, power plays and other unchristian behaviors among the community of faith, they conclude that these so-called children of God are no different than they are. When they see love, they know that there is something different about us. The best way to impact our world is not by being more aggressive, but by being more loving. It is not by demanding, but by serving.
NEW APPLICATION OF THE COMMAND
In the sermon on the Mount Jesus said,
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:43-47)
Jesus took the command to love our brothers and expanded it. Instead of defining a “brother” as simply a person who was a member of our own family or group, our brother is now anyone . . . even our enemy!
Jesus illustrated this same idea when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story about a Jew who was beaten up and cared for by his avowed enemy. (Today, Jesus would talk about a Jew who was cared for by a Palestinian). Jesus demonstrated this kind of love when he reached out to the lepers, brought relief to the demon possessed (both of whom were outcasts in the society). He showed love to a hated tax collector, extended mercy to a woman caught in adultery, kissed the man who betrayed him, and even asked God to forgive those who crucified him. Corrie ten Boom tells the powerful story.
“when I was in prison camp I saw the same guard day in and day out. He was the one who mocked and sneered at us when we were stripped naked and taken into the showers. He spat on us in contempt, and I hated him. I hated him with every fiber of my being. And Jesus says when you hate someone you are guilty of murder.”
“When we were freed, I left Germany vowing never to return,” Corrie continued. “But I was invited back there to speak. I didn’t want to go but I felt the Lord nudging me to. Very reluctantly I went. My first talk was on forgiveness. Suddenly, as I was speaking, I saw to my horror that same prison guard sitting in the audience. There was no way that he would have recognized me. But I could never forget his face, never. It was clear to me from the radiant look on his face while I spoke, that he had been converted since I saw him last. After I finished speaking he came up and said with a beaming smile, ‘Ah, dear sister Corrie, isn’t it wonderful how God forgives?” And he extended his hand for me to shake.
“All I felt as I looked at him was hate. I said to the Lord silently, “There is nothing in me that could ever love that man. I hate him for what he did to me and to my family. But you tell us that we are to love our enemies. That’s impossible for me, but nothing is impossible for you. So if you expect me to love this man it’s going to have to come from you, because all I feel is hate.”
She went on to say that at that moment she felt nudged to do only one thing: “Put out your hand, Corrie,” the Lord seemed to say. Then she said, “It took all of the years that I had quietly obeyed God in obscurity to do the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I put out my hand.” Then, she said, something remarkable happened. “It was only after my simple act of obedience that I felt something almost like warm oil was being poured over me. And with it came the unmistakable message: ‘Well done, Corrie. That’s how my children behave.’ And the hate in my heart was absorbed and gone. And so one murderer embraced another murderer, but in the love of Christ.” [Rebecca Pippert, Hope Has It’s Reasons p. 189, 190]
This is the kind of love that transforms the world. God wants us to see others not with the blinders of the world but with the eyes of grace. He wants us to see others as He does. He wants us to see beyond categories and prejudices and see people who are created in the image of God. He wants us to see people who are loved so much by God that He sent His son to die in their place.
So, how do we apply this teaching? Let me suggest a few things. The very first step is to examine our own hearts to see if we have ever experienced God’s transforming love. We can’t love others unless we have known His love. So once again I stress the importance of surrendering to Christ for salvation and new life.
Second, we must ask God to help us love those we find difficult to love. You must love: The one who hurt you, the spouse who betrayed you, the friend who abandoned you, and the business or employer who cheated you. We all have these kinds of people in our lives. If we are going to love like Jesus, we have to love these people. In order to do that, we must pray and ask God to put His love in our heart. As you do this keep in mind four things.
- Loving someone is not the same as liking them. If you wait until you like another person you may never love them. Liking someone has to do with attraction. Liking someone is something that comes naturally. Loving is super-natural. Liking someone is an emotion. Love is a decision. You may never be “attracted” to some people but you still must love them. You will find that many of the people you choose to love will eventually become people you also like.
- Loving someone doesn’t mean we have to ignore or minimize the hurt of the past. When you love people you face the hurt and forgive by putting that past in the hands of Jesus. No one said it was easy. That’s what makes love so unique.
- Loving someone doesn’t mean ignoring sinful behavior. Some would have us believe that loving someone means never confronting someone when they are doing wrong. I disagree. Jesus told people they were sinning. He did it because He loved them and knew that they needed to turn from that sin in order to be forgiven and set free. Love is concerned about turning a brother or sister from the sin that will destroy them.
- We must remember that we were loved when we didn’t deserve it. When you feel you can’t love, ask, “What if Jesus had said this about me?”
Third, love starts (even with difficult people) by the little things we do daily. It is showing courtesy, being kind, extending a hand, putting an arm around a shoulder, listening, celebrating with someone even if the person is living your dream. We plant seeds of love when we do a job that isn’t in our job description, when we notice the good things others do, and when we look for the hurt that causes someone to snap at us rather than immediately snapping back. Love grows most fully in a servant heart.
As we do these things we will discover what it means to live in the light. As you learn to love you may still not be able to see the 3D Magic Eye pictures, but what you will see will be more significant. You will see God changing your heart and changing others through you.