Monthly Archives: July 2019

True love – 1 John 3.16-24

True love – 1 John 3.16-24

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John is writing this letter in order that his believing readers might know that they have eternal life (5.13). In 3.14 he makes it clear that such assurance of God’s gift of life comes to those who love their fellow Christians (3.14). Now in 3.16-24 he elaborates further on that love which lies at the heart of all true discipleship. The model of such true love stands before us in Jesus; John affirms that we know/recognise love in the historical fact that Jesus “laid down his life for us” (3.16). This may refer supremely to his death for our salvation, but it surely means all his sacrificial giving of himself for us in leaving the Father’s glory and descending to earth where he lived sacrificially in love amongst us. Now, John declares, we too ought to lay down our lives for our sisters and brothers in Christ. In 3.16 we note the emphatic “and we” in the second half of the verse. John’s use of “Beloved” in 3.21 shows that he himself follows the model of Jesus in love.

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Relating back to his reference to Cain (3.12), John states in strikingly emphatic and challenging words that whoever fails to love their fellow believers is a murderer (3.15). Through love comes life; lack of love robs people of life and steals life away from them. At first we may be shocked by the apparently exaggerated accusation of murder against those who fail to manifest love in the fellowship of the church of Christ. But the vital importance of such love cannot be ignored. Without it eternal life eludes us (3.15).
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Christian love is not just a romantic feeling; nor can we reduce it to an artificial smile or a hearty slap on the back. Jesus’ love demands practical service. If we have this world’s goods, we dare not fail to show our sympathy with a sister or brother in need. True love works itself out in very practical service and help for those who suffer. The 1st century church strongly emphasized loving care for the poor within the church. Deacons were appointed to make sure that widows, orphans and the needy were cared for. So John asserts that we are not to love just in word and in theory, but “in deed/action and in truth” (3.18). We may note too that charity begins at home within the borders of the Christian church.

The consequences of love

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If we love one another, we know with confident assurance that we have eternal life and that we “are of the truth” (3.19). Our faith and trust in Jesus is shown to be genuine. John then goes on to add that we are to “set our hearts at rest in his presence”. This NIV translation is attempting to translate a difficult Greek word (peitho); the old Authorised Version says we shall “assure our hearts”. The word implies a deep assurance based on being persuaded. So we come before the Lord with a confidence that is based on the fact of our love which shows us that our faith is true. Our love gives us the evidence that we can come before the holy God with genuine confidence. This confidence does not stem from pride and self-assurance, for all of us have to confess that some times “our heart condemns us” (3.20). Happily we can rest assured that God is greater than our doubting hearts. He knows us through and through, so we can come with assured faith into his presence. No wonder Paul declares with victorious joy that “death has been swallowed up in victory” and quotes Hosea 13.14 in asking “Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15.54/55).
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Interestingly, the Greek word peitho is some times translated incorrectly as ‘obey’ (e.g. Hebrews 13.17) whereas it really signifies ‘yielding to persuasion’. Likewise two other Greek words, hupakouo (Eph. 6.5) and hupotasso (Eph. 5.22), are also translated incorrectly as ‘obey’ or ‘submit’ (e.g. Eph. 5.22).  When the suffix arch of authority (as in the English monarchy or oligarchy) is added, then peitharcheo does indeed mean ‘obey’ (e.g. Acts 5.29, 32), but it is only used of our response to God. Peitharcheois never used in relation to other human beings. Towards other human beings (children towards parents, slaves towards masters, all of us towards teaching concerning the Gospel) we are to yield to persuasion. Rebellious attitudes which will not listen humbly will spoil Christian relationships of love. Likewise unthinking obedience goes against the will of God. Some Christian leaders and bishops may demand obedience, but this is clearly unbiblical. Rather, we are called to weigh people’s words of instruction and yield humbly and lovingly to them if they seem true.
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Our confidence before God, which stems from our love for our sisters and brothers in Christ, produces such a confident relationship with our heavenly Father that “we receive from him anything we ask” (3.22). Keeping (not the unthinking word ‘obey’ as in NIV) his commands and doing what pleases God are the basis for effective intercessory prayer (3.22). What a privilege we have as Christians! We can have assurance that God answers prayers that are in line with his will. When we read that keeping his commands is an essential condition for effective prayer, inevitably we ask ourselves what his commands consist of. The answer is simple: believe in God’s son Jesus Christ and love one another (3.23). If we obey these two commands, John assures us that we shall abide in the Lord and he will abide in us (3.24). What an amazing relationship of love we are given! We are totally at one with almighty God through Jesus Christ.
Can this all be possible? It all sounds too idyllic! John affirms that confirmation comes from the Spirit whom God has given us. We so experience the working of the Holy Spirit in and through us that we gain confidence that the Lord does indeed dwell in us and we in him. God’s Spirit lives in us and brings growing Christ-like holiness into our lives. He enables us to love our fellow believers. He works through us to share his good news of new, abundant and eternal life with others.
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So, God’s command to us through the writings of John comes once again to us. Believe in Jesus, trust and follow him! Let love reign in the church of God!
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Children of God (1 John 3.1-15)

Children of God (1 John 3.1-15)
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God the Father’s love takes our breath away. He has actually chosen to call us his children. And somewhat amusingly John notes that we are not only called his children; he adds the words “and we are”! Let us all stop for a moment and marvel that ordinary people like us should be adopted by God the Father as his beloved children. I find it almost incredible that the almighty all-holy God should want me in his family as his son. That’s good news if ever there was!
But the good news is followed by a warning. We are still living within the context of the non-Christian world. God loves us perfectly, but the world doesn’t know us because they also don’t know the Lord (3.1). So don’t let us be so carried away by the sheer glory of our adoption as God’s children that we are taken by surprise when opposition hits us.
Wonderfully, however, God’s staggering grace in making us his children cannot be dimmed by mere worldly opposition. The warmth of his love shines through to move John to another question. As God’s children what lies in the future? What sort of people will we be (3.2)? John has no answer to such questions, but he moves on to our final ultimate destiny when Jesus appears, when he comes again at the end of human history (3.2). More glory is revealed! These brief verses leave us breathless with their brilliance. “We shall be like him” and “we shall see him as he is”. Is it really possible that sinful people like us will then be totally God-like? God’s answer through John comes with a resounding ‘Yes!’. We shall not only be “like him”, but we shall also see and know him perfectly. What a future! To be absolutely like the Lord and to have that intimate relationship with him!
Holy like God (3.3-10)
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Having this sure hope for our future, we are now called to a life of holiness and purity. In preparation for the day when we shall “be like him” we are to sanctify ourselves and begin the process of making ourselves as righteous and holy as God is. As God’s very own children we inherit from him God’s own nature and being. By his Spirit he now lives in us and forms within us his own character of righteousness. Before we came to faith in Jesus and were born again as God’s children, we may have followed lives of selfishness, pride and godless sin. But if we have indeed been “born of God” (3.9), we cannot “continue to sin” (3.6). John’s teaching in this passage cannot but strike us forcefully; anyone who is living a life of sin is of the Devil (3.8). But Jesus came to earth in order to remove and destroy the works of the Devil. In Jesus sin has no place and we dare not allow it a place  in our lives. He came to earth to take our sin away.

This passage with its call to ‘sanctify ourselves’ sounds quite extreme. Our modern ears are unaccustomed to such a challenge to a life of disciplined holiness and moral righteousness in our daily living. We may shudder at John’s words, “sanctify yourself” (3.3). We might expect him to say that God’s indwelling Holy Spirit will work in us and for us. Of course this is also true. But John’s emphasis is rather that with God’s ‘seed’ dwelling in us (3.9) we ourselves have the responsibility not to go on sinning.

In this way, John declares, we can know who are genuinely God’s children. Those who do not follow a life of sinning are evidently God’s children, while those who do not follow righteousness show that they are “children of the Devil” (3.10).

God’s revealed Scriptures do not mince their words! The challenge of God’s demands stands starkly before us.

Not like Cain (3.10-15)

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Once again the central feature in the life of holiness and righteousness is that as Christians “we love one another” (3.10/11). John underlines that this is the message which we have heard “from the beginning”. Throughout biblical history God’s command has always been that love should reign amongst his people. If we don’t love our Christian sisters and brothers, we “are not from God”. As followers of Jesus we are to be known as people of love.
Every Thursday morning our little village church has an informal coffee time at our local garden centre. Their staff once told me that they looked forward to serving on Thursday mornings because of our being there. They thought that we were all of one family because they noticed how we loved each other! What an opportunity to share the reality of new life through faith in Jesus!
John goes on to warn his readers against any failure to love our fellow believers. He cites the dire example of Cain who was “from the evil one” and actually murdered his brother. What led him to such hatred? “His works were evil, those of his brother were righteous” (3.12). Today too some non-Christians will strongly oppose us because Christians’ moral standards make them feel uncomfortable and grubby. I well remember that feeling of dislike of Christians when I was first at university as a non-Christian; their lives showed up my sin and my lack of moral uprightness.
How can we be sure of our salvation? How can we know that we have “passed from death into life” (3.14) – once again we may observe John’s emphasis on LIFE? Assurance of that life comes because we see that we now love our sisters and brothers in Christ. It has become a delight to us when we happen to meet a fellow believer on the train or bus. We love to gather with other Christians and share the joy of God’s amazing love with them. Let us pray and work to foster such love within our local churches and fellowships!
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