December 27, 2020
There is a story told of a new pastor to a small, struggling church. He was a bit young and inexperienced, but both he and the church were excited he was there. They had heard him preach, and he was quite good. Sure enough, that first Sunday, with great anticipation, the church listened as he preached a great sermon, and the people were buzzing with excitement.
So much so, the next Sunday there were even a few new faces. But, when the new pastor stood up, surprisingly, he preached the exact same sermon from the week before. People exchanged puzzled glances – but, it was a good sermon. They thought, well, maybe he was busy this week, getting acclimated to the new community. So, they let it slide. But then, the next week – much to their surprise, it happened again – he stood up and preached the same message. This time, there were not puzzled glances, but arms folded glares. What was going on? So, the pulpit committee, Elders and Deacons quickly called an emergency meeting, with the new, young pastor. They asked him, what are you doing – you’ve preached the exact same message three weeks in a row?! The young pastor paused, looked over the room, and replied, “When you start applying this one, we’ll move on to the next.”
I’ve always loved that story – it expresses a pastor’s heart for his people. That they would not only listen to the word, but do what it says. That story could actually be applied to the aged Apostle John, as he wrote his first epistle – we call it I John. I shared with you the likely true story that whenever the old apostle would be able to gather with the church in Ephesus – and when given the opportunity to speak, he would say the same thing, “My little children, love one another.” Puzzled, they once asked him, is that all you have to say? To which he replied, “If you love one another, it is enough.”
As you read through his first letter, and as I preach through it, I wonder how many times we will think, John how many times will you tell us the same thing? Hear his words, “If you love one another, it is enough.” That is not to suggest that all you need is love – but it is incredibly important. You see, we arrive today at the third of his three tests to determine the reality of genuine Christian faith. You know them well by now:
First is the theological test – in order to be a Christian, you must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh, to be the propitiation for the sins of His people. That He died, and rose again, and by simple repentance and faith, you can be saved.
The second test we looked at a couple weeks ago – it’s called the moral test. If you have been saved by simple faith, then God changes your life. The Holy Spirit comes and lives within. You now have the Spirit-empowered ability to obey – to actually choose to not sin. Of course, we saw when we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. This is not permission to sin – to presume on grace. I can sin, because God will forgive me. No – having been saved, assurance from salvation comes from a desire to walk as Jesus walked. To obey His commands.
The third test we arrive at today – we call it the relational test. Having been born again, this time, into a spiritual family comprised of other followers of Jesus, you love one another. Said simply, you love other Christians.
Now, a couple weeks ago, I said this, and want to say again: The first test is required to produce salvation. You must believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh, given by the Father to die and be raised again, for the sins of His people. For your sins. You must believe the gospel in order to be saved.
Now, the second and third tests are required not to produce salvation – they are however required to prove salvation. To give assurance. You must pursue holiness; you must love God’s people. They are tests John gives us so we can know we have eternal life. I want to be clear – you don’t obey His commands, you don’t love other Christians to be saved – you do so because have been saved.
Meaning, show me someone who at one point believed the gospel – prayed a prayer – but whose life never changed, who doesn’t pursue holiness and further has nothing to do with the church, and I’ll show you someone who at best has no assurance of salvation, and at worst, is not saved. Is not a Christian. Because John says, if you say you know God, have fellowship with Him; if you say are in the light as He is in the light, but walk in darkness, you lie – you’re self-deceived. Today, he will say, the one who says he is in the light yet hates his brother is in darkness until now. Bringing us to our text today – the relational test, found in I John 2:7-11. Let’s read that.
The relational test. Positively, the one who says, Jesus is my Lord, I walk in the light as He is in the light, the one who has been born again into the family of God, loves the Christian family. And you may say, well, I don’t hate Christians, so I pass this test. But here’s the question, do you love them? How do you, or they, know? How do you demonstrate love? You see, for John, it is not enough to say, I don’t hate ‘em. I like ‘em most of the time. He will later make clear that love is expressed in action. Here’s the outline we’ll use to make our way through the text:
- An Old Commandment (7)
- A New Commandment (8)
- Obeying/Disobeying the Commandment (9-11)
John typically draws stark contrasts through his letter – Light and Darkness (twilight), Truth and Lies, now Love and Hate. He is battling false teachers who wanted to call evil, good; darkness, light; lies, truth; hate, love. They claimed to know God, who is light, who is truth, who is love, but they walk in darkness and hate – so they are liars. They don’t know God. He doesn’t just say they are confused or straying or inaccurate or a little off – he says they are liars. They are lost. They are walking in darkness.
Now this begs a question: Is it loving to call them out like that? All we need is love, right? That doesn’t seem very loving, does it? I mean, you don’t call people names if you are loving. John, you should be much more tolerant. Unless, to claim to know God and yet live like you don’t – and seek others to live in darkness with you, is serious with eternal consequences. To allow people to live in self-deception, in darkness, is not loving. Indeed, the loving thing to do is call it out.
As Christians, we are accused at times of being unloving. To be clear, we should never be accused of being unloving because of our actions. We should be the most loving of all people. But, we are often accused of being unloving because we are supposedly intolerant or arrogant when we speak truth. But here’s a challenge. The evangelical church has an insatiable desire to be accepted, and so she often backs away from truth so as not to be offensive. She often sacrifices truth at the altar of acceptance. Truth is not the enemy of love – in fact, I would argue, lies are the enemy of love. Darkness and lies and hatred go together – so also, light and love and truth go together. But darkness does not like when we are loving by speaking truth.
Well, John starts in verse 7 with the word, beloved – the first of many times in this letter he calls them loved ones. Which is appropriate – he’s getting ready to tell them to love one another. So he calls them, beloved. But is this just a ploy, a tactic? I’m going to remind you about love, so I suppose I ought to be loving. I don’t think so. John saw himself as the one Jesus loved. He heard the commandment when Jesus first gave it. He was there at the foot of the cross when Jesus directed him to care for His mother, Mary. John had seen and heard love exemplified. And so, over and over, he demonstrates he knew what true love was. My little children, love one another, it is enough.
I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. There is some discussion about this. Some suggest this commandment to love is found throughout the OT. Remember Deuteronomy 6, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Leviticus 19 says, love your neighbor as yourself. So later, when Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment, He quoted Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. It was an old command, going all the way back to Moses.
Actually, it goes all the way back to the beginning of time. Later in chapter 3, John will say, again, love one another. Don’t be like Cain – the oldest son of Adam and Eve, who killed his brother Abel. So this concept, this commandment of love goes all the way back to our first parents.
But, notice how John says it: this old commandment is one you’ve had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. So, many others suggest, I think rightly, the commandment, while rooted in the OT, is found most fully in the life and teachings of Jesus. This old commandment they had heard from the time the gospel was first preached to them. No doubt, they heard the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of John:
13:34-35 – (the night of His betrayal) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Then later, that same evening, 15:12-13 – This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. [And how is that?] Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
So are you saying that we should love one another by laying down our lives for them? Yes, in a manner of speaking – we’ll come back to that. The point is, this commandment to love one another goes all the way back to the life and teaching and example of Jesus – now several decades removed. And we are now several centuries removed – but it is a command that is old, yet enduring – that we love one another. It is enough.
What is interesting to note is they heard this command to love another from the beginning – when they first heard the gospel. Have you ever thought of the gospel including this idea of loving one another – of being saved into a family of believers who become our new family, whom we love? You see, our problem is our individualistic society where self is of utmost importance, even when we hear the gospel, or share the gospel, we make it only about me. Or me and Jesus. And the family of believers is optional – an add on – later, if we ever get to it.
But here, John says loving one another is something they heard when they first became believers. And it makes sense, if we remember he writes these things to us so that we can know that we have eternal life. By believing that Jesus is the Christ – that is, repentance and faith to produce salvation. But also, obeying His commands and loving one another as proof of salvation. You see, if we never get to the Christian community called the church – if we make it optional as we are so inclined to do – it’s no wonder so many lack assurance of salvation. The gospel is meant to be lived out in community. And if there is no community, there is no assurance. Please, don’t make the church optional – don’t make loving your spiritual family a burden or an option or an occasional experience. Make it a necessary joy and privilege – a significant goal in your life.
Well, John goes on to confuse us just a bit with the next verse. He just said, I am not writing a new commandment to you. Now verse 8, he says, “On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you.” Which one is it John – is it old or new?
Lots of discussion about what John means when he says, I am writing a new commandment to you. Clearly, he goes on to talk about the command to love one another. So what does he mean by calling it new? Is it because Jesus called it new in John 13? Perhaps, likely. But the clue comes from the rest of the verse, “which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.”
Two important ideas here. First, it’s new because, while the commandment is old – in a sense, it was a command without power. People were not able to fully obey the command. They needed the New Covenant. But now, it is new because it is to be found truly in Him, that is Jesus. Jesus was the true expression of God’s love to us, demonstrated most clearly at the cross.
Further, His love was irrespective of the loveliness of the object loved. In fact, His love was despite the ones loved. In this is love, not that we loved God, but He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were yet sinners, unlovable wretches, Christ died for us.
God’s love is seen most clearly and brilliantly when He loved the unlovely. The undeserving. For in this way God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son into the world – not to condemn the world, although condemnation is what we deserved. He sent His Son so that through Him, the world may be saved. That is love. And when we believe in Him, that new commandment to love, as Christ loved, is in us. And it is a love that is expressed irrespective of the loveliness of the ones loved. It’s interesting, we so often look at the church with all her failures and foibles, and find it difficult to love. How many times have you heard criticisms, probably rightly, brought against the church? And yet, when we were lost, unloving, He loved us. And He saved us, and commands us to love one another despite our imperfections.
A second idea is in the last part of the verse, “because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.” Now, in chapter 1, John said this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light. But in John 1, he makes it clear Jesus was the light come into the world. In John 8, Jesus Himself said, I am the light of the world. The Light has come into the world, and the darkness did not comprehend it. And yet, the light is shining ever brightly. From a small manger in Bethlehem, up to Nazareth and Capernaum in Galilee, to Jerusalem, to a cross and the glorious resurrection, throughout the Middle East, to the world. The light of Christ and His gospel is already shining and spreading, and darkness is passing away.
That doesn’t mean, as some have taught, that Christ and His gospel will one day rule the earth through the church before His return. That in some way, the church will usher in the kingdom. In truth, the teaching throughout the NT is, as the light spreads and shines more brightly, the darkness will become more dark, opposing the light. We should not be surprised by what we see in opposition to the gospel – to Christ and His Church. The darkness holds on tightly, but the light is shining. And it will win.
The old commandment, as old as time is love. The old commandment to love one another becomes new in that Jesus has come, and fills His people by His Spirit, such that the light of Christ is growing, and the love we have for one another grows greater. Please remember what I said earlier – love is built on the foundation of truth and righteousness. Christ’s love does not grow by suppressing truth – it is found most clearly riding the wings of truth.
Bringing us to our third point – obedience, or disobedience, to the command to love. It’s important, you see, because it proves the reality of our faith. In verse 9, John writes, “the one who says.” He’d said that back in verses 4 and 6: the one who says I have come to know Him and does not keep His commandments is a liar. The one who says he abides in Him ought to walk as Jesus walked. That was the moral test – the one who says he knows Jesus ought to obey His commands. If you don’t, you don’t know Jesus.
Now John moves to the third test – the relational test. The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. He will restate it in verse 11, the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks (as a way of life) in the darkness. Again, please note John is not suggesting this one is a confused believer – an immature believer – rather, he is not a believer at all. He remains in darkness.
Verse 11 goes on to say, he does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. He’s groping around in the dark. He is still blind to truth. He is still blind to the light of the gospel. He is still lost. We remember the words of Paul in II Corinthians 4:3-4, “And if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…”
As I suggested earlier, John is not speaking of love as this mushy expression of sentimentality. In John, love is expressed in action. It is not enough to say, I love other Christians, without putting actions behind your words. He’ll talk about it more in the chapters to come, so I’ll save it until then. But the point I want you to hear is, to say you love but not express that love is meaningless. The kind of love John is talking about is expressed in acting lovingly toward Christian family members.
Verse 10 says it this way, The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. This is the command – the old and new commandment – he will address over and over in this letter. To be a Christian, you must confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh. And assurance of your faith – more, proof of your faith – is that you seek to obey His commands – the first of which is to love one another.
Now, the one another is clearly other Christians. John is not suggesting we don’t love non-Christians. Of course we do. That’s what the story of the Good Samaritan is all about. But the point he is making in this letter is that Christians love other Christians. In the early church, they couldn’t get enough of each other – meeting in one another’s homes, even daily. Sharing meals together, praising God together, learning truth together. Yes, and inviting others to join them.
Remember, we will see in verse 19 the false teachers had succeeded from the church – they saw themselves as possessing a superior knowledge – outside of the gospel. And they left, not demonstrating love for believers. They left, proving they were themselves not believers. And by doing so, they were causing believers to stumble.
But, as we pursue Christ together, we will not be a cause for stumbling for other believers. Very simply, this means, we will together pursue truth and holiness, encouraging one another to do the same along the way. We will not, as the false teachers were doing, encourage other believers to sin by deserting truth. This is what John means by being a cause for stumbling.
Well, we have just barely broached the subject of loving one another this morning. We’ll come back to it over and over, hearing John say over and over, My little children, love one another. It is enough.
How do we do it? How do we love one another – at least, how do we begin to love one another? I’ve thought about this a lot this week. Can I suggest the first thing we need to do is make a mutual commitment of love to each other. Think of it as a New Year’s resolution. We can figure how to do it in action along the way, as we make our way through the book. But for now, can I encourage us to express, verbally, consciously, our love for one another.
Let me tell you about some men in our church who do that for me. Regularly, my closest friends, tell me – by text, verbally, that they love me. Oh, to be sure, they don’t leave it there. But as we’ve grown in our relationship, through the years, it has become quite normal for us to express mutual commitment. Love. Men don’t usually do that, do we? I know from experience, it’s challenging to do at first. It seems artificial. Until you begin backing those expressions with words of encouragement, and acts of love. Who can you tell, today, this week, that you love them?