1 John 3:13-24
You know it really is one of those middle verses that really ties this whole passage together. Verse 16, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16) Another John 3:16. You know it really seems to be the verse John likes to use to make some of his most profound statements in his letters. This thought is our cruxing statement of love here in our passage today.
This Easter season we have been on a journey. Both a metaphorical and a physical journey that is taking us through this Wesleyan understanding of grace, and more so this understanding he asserts of the Scriptural way of salvation that leads to his conceptualization of Christian Perfection. As we have talked about this understanding we must remember that this a perfection not from infirmities, or in knowledge, or even spotlessness from sin. This is a perfection in the manner in which we experience God’s love, and the way in which it completes us in our lives.
Between the last two weeks we have tackled the concepts of justification and redemption. In looking at each of these we have looked at sin. Because in order for us to begin to understand God’s love and what it means to be perfect and complete in God’s love we have to understand what counters God’s love in our lives and the role that those actions play in our lives.
The first week we looked at our justification and that when we come to God, God wants us to come admitting everything and surrendering ourselves for the work that God has for us. When we withhold information from God we, in a way, are lying to God. A lie omission, but a lie none-the-less. Therefore this conviction we feel from God’s love that brings us into relationship takes a full commitment on our part.
However, it is not as if sin goes away. It is still there and still tries to play a role in our lives God’s love again does not mean perfection from committing sin, but knowing that with God the temptation and sin and nature of evil doesn’t make a difference because we have a God whom we can turn to who can help us get through was is going on. God can help squash the temptation, comfort us in our guilt, and walk with us through times of darkness.
This all centers around our understanding of God’s love, because all of this circles back around to the ultimate act of love that God showed us. So this verse 1 John 3:16 is the verse I am looking at, but it is explained and expounded upon in the surrounding verses that were read. John lays down this understanding that the way in which we know the love we are called to share is by understanding the manner in which Jesus died for us. From here on out it is about love and in that we will be covering certain aspects of love. Looking at the manner in which our love for God transfers into our love for others, our love for God, and how God’s love perfects us.
In this we start with the treatment of our fellow man, because not only is that an understanding of God’s love for us but also serves in a good manner to transition from our discussion on sin to our discussion on love.
Now to start this discussion I want to read a passage from John’s gospel:
“When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31-35)
It is from this passage that we begin to grasp this understanding of what is now known as “the love commandment” and that in this passage Jesus is setting this commandment as the basis of community as John reasserts here in his letter.1 Therefore, love is not merely the basis for our relationship with God, but for that love to be made complete and to grow and strengthen in our lives it must also flood over into our lives as a whole. Not just an piece of our relationship with God, but our relationship with others.
John the writer here uses a good metaphor to let us know the severity to which our relationship with others plays into our relationship with God. Letting us know that love is not just something for us and God, but something we show to everyone.
“For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” (1 John 3:11-12)
This may seem like a bit of a rash example, but if we think of the nature of love and the nature to which John holds this idea dualism in his writings it would make sense that he goes here. John isn’t saying that we will actually murder if we do not love, but he likens it to it out of the nature that the opposite of love is hate.
D. Moody Smith is a Professor Emeritus at Duke Divinity School and he writes in reference to this example saying, “What is clear enough is that Cain’s murder of his brother Abel affords an apt instance of the consequence of failing to heed the love amendment. The opposite of love for one’s brother is hatred leading to murder (v. 15).”2 Where John writes in verse 15, “All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.” (1 John 3:15)
John uses this idea of murder to help us to understand the importance of love for our brothers and sisters as opposed to the hate that is often shown. This is one of the complaints about Christianity in our contemporary age. With so much argument over different hot topic issues we forget that our main job as the church is to love. The task that we hold above everything else is that we are called to love and give everything to the God that we believe in and to express that love as we interact with our fellow brothers and sisters on this earth as Jesus teaches us in Matthew 22. (Matthew 22:36-40)
Love is the central theme in our faith, as I have stated, but we need to make sure that we are emanating that love. That our faith in God is not hollow and not without visible signs, but that we fully express our faith. I think in a few ways the church has lost sight of that. They have allowed personal feelings towards a group of people overtake this understanding of love.
Honestly at times I have seen more hatred expressed from Christians often than from people who are not Christian, and often so much so that death is even involved. Maybe not a physical death, but often metaphorically. Right now our church, The Methodist Church is in this debate over the acceptance of homosexuality. Now I do not want to debate this topic with you…nor am I advocating for one side or another, but if you have heard any of the conversation surrounding it the past 40 yrs you know some of the language used has been less than loving. The language has gotten so rough that there are people who are actually advocating that the church split over this issue. Instead of working it out in the understanding of love people want to allow the hatred and dissension to control our beliefs and actually divide the denomination over the issue.
Again I am not advocating one side or another. I don’t want to start a political debate…and please don’t do that. I want you to recognize what happens when we do not allow love to be part of our interaction with other people. Whether you have differing opinions or not there should be some level of love that is expressed even in your disagreement. This is something that has struggled to find its way into many discussions…not just the one on homosexuality, but many hot topic issues within the church. And out of the hatred and differences has come this idea of metaphorical death. Whether it is people leaving the church, or the church completely splitting it shows us that holding on to hatred towards our brothers and sisters does not benefit us and is not a way that God calls us to live.
It all comes back to love, and what is our definition? “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16) This is the perfect example of love, and not only are we supposed to share that love with God, but with one another.
In thinking about this Wesleyan understanding of Christian Perfection we are perfect in as much as our love for and from God. James writes in his letter, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (James 1:22) In the same manner John writes, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us…” (1 John 3:18-20a)
Even when it may seem difficult, like there is no possible way to overcome our differences we must remember that this example of love Jesus showed us we are supposed to exemplify to others.
Hold this concept of love with. Do not let hate overcome you. In all that you do express love to your brothers and sisters. There is more than enough room for love even when we might not be on the same page, but when we allow our hatred or even just our hateful speech to control who we are we neglect the love the writer John here wants us to share.
I will leave you today with some words from John Wesley. He gave a sermon on the Marks of the New Birth, explaining what it means to carry this “mark” we often associate with being Christian. In it he says,
“The necessary fruit of this love of God is the love of our neighbour; of every soul which God hath made; not excepting our enemies; not excepting those who are now “despitefully using and persecuting us;” — a love whereby we love every man as ourselves; as we love our own souls. Nay, our Lord has expressed it still more strongly, teaching us to “love one another even as He hath loved us.” Accordingly, the commandment written in the hearts of all those that love God, is no other than this, “As I have loved you, so love ye one another.” Now, “herein perceive we the love of God, in that he laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3: 16) “We ought,” then, as the Apostle justly infers, “to lay down our lives for the brethren.” If we feel ourselves ready to do this, then do we truly love our neighbour. Then “we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we” thus “love the brethren.” (1 John 3: 14) “Hereby know we” that we are born of God, that we “dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his” loving “Spirit.” (1 John 4: 13) For “love is of God; and every one that” thus “loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” (1 John 4:7)”3
1.) Interpretation: First, Second, and Third John. Smith, D. Moody. p. 88.
2.) Interpretation: First, Second, and Third John. Smith, D. Moody. p. 89.
3.) Wesley, John (2013-12-13). The Complete Sermons: John Wesley (p. 94). Hargreaves Publishing. Kindle Edition.