February 14, 2021
How appropriate that today is Valentine’s Day – a day set aside annually to express your never-ending love for that special someone. Traditionally, we express that love in certain ways on this day – flowers, candy, especially chocolates, and cards. It’s estimated the average expenditure per person for Valentines is $136 – for a total of $18 billion in the US. Think of it – $136 is all it takes to express your faithful love, and you’re good for another year. But, is love more than faded flowers, consumed candy, and discarded cards?
Further, is love to be expressed more than once a year? And, is love to be expressed to more than just your special someone? Now certainly, there is a faithful, romantic love that is expressed to only one; but, is love – familial love, a love for biological brothers and sisters and spiritual brothers and sisters, to be expressed as well? Once a year, or more regularly? If so, how? Well, John says yes, and tells us how. Given our recent challenges, this is an important text today.
As we have seen, John wrote his first letters to believers to give them assurance of their salvation, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” And we’ve seen the things he wrote concerned three tests to determine the reality of faith:
First is the theological test, which concerns the person of Jesus. To pass the test, you must believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh, to be the sacrifice for the sins of people.
The second is the moral test. To pass this text, you must not only believe in Jesus, you must actually be His follower – meaning, you must obey His commands. I want to make clear again – obeying His commands does make you a Christian; it does, however, prove you are one.
The third is the relational test. If you say you believe in Jesus as the Christ and seek to obey His commands, the very first command you received at the beginning was to love one another. In other words, true Christians love other Christians. The question for today is, how do we demonstrate that love for each other?
Last week, some of you may have noticed John was actually returning to the moral test – those who call themselves Christians must forsake sin and pursue righteousness. And in the process, we came to the perhaps challenging understanding that, contrary to popular opinion, not all people are children of God. That may have come as a shock. The truth is, only those who believe in Jesus, who are born of God are children of God. Similarly, those not born of God – that is, not Christians – are not children of God. And we saw the startling counterpoint – those who are not children of God are children of the devil.
Remember, John lives in a black and white world of stark contrast. Through his first letter, there is no middle ground. There is light and dark; there is no twilight. There is love and hate; there is no apathetic indifference. You are either children of God or children of the devil. There is no orphan – parentless child. He said it clearly in chapter 3, verse 10, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God.” We saw that our actions – passing or failing the moral test – is proof of our paternity. Your actions prove your DNA.
Now, at the end of verse 10, John also said, “anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” That’s a transition to the third test – the relational test. To not love your brothers and sisters in Christ demonstrates true paternity. If you do, you are a child of God, if you don’t, you are still a child of the devil. Which brings us to our text today, I John 3:11-18. Read that with me, “nor the one who does not love his brother. For…
Here’s the contrast today – this St. Valentine’s Day: Cainlike hatred or Christlike love. My brothers and sisters – as believers in and followers of Jesus – we are to have a Christlike love, a sacrificial love which lays down our lives for each other. Here’s the outline of the text:
- The Command to Love One Another (11)
- The Negative Example of Cain (12-13)
- The Positive Example of Christ (14-18)
For this is the message which you heard from the beginning. He already referenced the command vaguely back in chapter 2:
7 Beloved, 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…
9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.
10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light….
Now, he spells it out more clearly – the commandment or the message they heard from the beginning was that we should love one another. We remember, of course, Jesus said so in John 13 at the Last Supper:
34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
We noted that was interesting. It was one of His final commands – Jesus called it a new commandment – that He gave His disciples. And here, when John is writing to churches, he says this is the message which you have heard from the beginning. The beginning of what? The beginning of the Christian life – when they first heard the gospel, repented and believed. Apparently, part of their earliest instruction was to love one another. In other words, family love is a foundational element of the gospel – of being part of the Christian family we call the church. We love one another. Remember, love is a central theme in this book – John uses the word 46 times in 105 verses – mostly in chapters 3 and 4. My little children – he will say it over and over – love one another – six times in I and II John. Don’t miss it, for this is the message which you have heard. That little conjunction ties it back to verse 10, By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious – the one who does not love his brother is not of God. John got that from Jesus. Obey the new command to love one another – by this all will know that you are My disciples – by your love for one another. John applies the corollary – if you don’t love, you are not His disciples. Love for each other displays our paternity.
Then John gives the negative example which serves as our second point in verses 12-13. Not as Cain, who was of the evil one. Notice, if you don’t love your brother, you are demonstrating you are still of the evil one, that is, the devil. You still abide in darkness and death. Now, we find the story of Cain and his brother Abel in Genesis 4.
1 Now the man [that’s Adam] had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD.”
2 Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
3 So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground.
4 Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering;
5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?
7 “If you do well [and the implication is, you have not done well], will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
8 Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
The first human death – actually murder – in the Bible. Here we read Cain and Abel were brothers, Cain the older, Abel the younger. Abel was a shepherd; Cain a farmer. In the course of time – literally, at the end of days – suggesting a specific time of offering, Cain brought an offering to the Lord. Seems okay – it was the fruit of the ground. Abel also brought an offering – the firstlings of his flock and their fat portions. Which means Abel brought the best of what he had to offer.
What’s interesting is the rest of verse 4 and verse 5 – God had regard for – that is, He accepted Abel’s offering, but He had no regard for Cain’s – that is, He did not accept Cain’s offering. Why? Through the centuries, there have been lots of discussions about that. First, how do we know God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s? Some suggest perhaps fire fell from heaven and consumed Abel’s offering – that happened a number of times in the OT as a sign the offering was accepted. In the end, it’s just a guess – but somehow, the men knew.
Second, and more importantly, why did God accept Abel’s offering and not Cain’s? Again, lots of discussion with the following ideas perhaps making the most sense. Some suggest Cain’s offering was the work of his hand, Abel’s was what God Himself provided. Perhaps, but later under the Mosaic Law, offerings of produce were acceptable.
Another widely-held idea is this: this was the time for a sacrificial offering for the forgiveness of sins. Remember, in the previous chapter, when Adam and Eve sinned, they covered themselves with fig leaves. But then we see God covered them with animal skins – the first recorded death in the Bible. Where did the animal skins come from? Most agree they were from sacrificial offerings which demonstrated the necessity of death for the forgiveness of sins. We know, for example in the book of Hebrews, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. And so, all those OT sacrifices for sin – before the Law, and during the Law under the Levitical system – were all blood sacrifices. So perhaps, it is thought, Cain broke from God’s prescribed instructions of providing a sacrifice of offering.
That’s possible – I think even likely. But to be clear, the text in Genesis doesn’t say. This is largely what both Jewish and Christian scholars have maintained. But, we see something further from an inference in verse 5 – so Cain became angry and his countenance fell. At the very least, Cain’s response of anger rather than repentance and humility betrays his heart. Think about it, you’re the third person on the planet, and you’re already angry…at God. Our text in I John says it this way:
11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;
12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.
It’s interesting, the text does not say killing his brother was evil – although it was – but that he slew his brother because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s righteous. In what way? Again, I believe it was a matter of his evil heart. Cain’s heart was already evil – and he demonstrated it by his evil sacrifice, and the anger toward and murder of his brother.
Cain, John tells us, was of the evil one. That means, he wasn’t born of God – he was of his father, the devil. Notice: for what reason did he slay him – and the word is actually butcher him? Because his deeds were evil – unrighteous – and his brother’s were righteous. He was already evil, and did further evil. Evil Cain against righteous Abel. Causing John to remind us, don’t be surprised if the world hates you. That seems like an awkward jump, but it follows Jesus’ words in John 15. Jesus is getting ready to leave, and He reminds them of the new commandment He had just given them:
12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (Remember that – this is clearly where John gets his instructions in his letter.)
14 “You are My friends if you do what I command you. (dropping down to verse 17)
17 “This I command you, that you love one another.
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.
19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.
Do you see? Love one another, do what I command you, and by the way, the world will hate you for it. Why? Because they hated Me first, and you are not of this world either. Darkness does not like light. You are of your Father, and they are of theirs. They will love their own, but they will hate you. John simply echoes Jesus’ teaching. We need to hear that. Are so attracted to being loved by the world. We want to be accepted by them, loved by them. But Jesus said, John say, if you love Jesus and love one another, the world will hate you.
Which brings us to the heart of his teaching in our third point. We know that we have passed out of death into life – that’s the purpose of his letter, so that they can know they have eternal life. This is quite similar to John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” You can know you have passed from eternal death into eternal life – how? Because we love the brothers and sisters. Because we love one another. Pass the third test.
Interestingly, in verse 15, he reiterates the idea of hating your brother – referring back to Cain – but he elaborates on the point. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer. I mean, Cain was, right? But how is it that hating makes you a murderer? Two ways. First, back in Genesis 4, we read that Cain became very angry – at who? We assume his brother, and that anger led to hatred, which led to murder. And then, in Matthew 5, Jesus taught us that every sin begins with an evil heart. Lust leads to adultery; anger leads to murder. Jesus said it this way:
21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’
22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
Do you see – the evil heart leads to evil actions. James tells us that sin begins in the heart – which ultimately leads to death. But, John says, that is not who we are as children of God. We love one another. And John gives the example of Jesus when he talks about how we love one another. Verse 16, “We know love by this, that He [Jesus] laid down His life for us…” Remember, Jesus said, greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. So, we too, he says, ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. We don’t take life like Cain, we give our lives like Christ. Cainlike hatred or Christlike love.
So what does that mean? That we are willing to die for one another? Well, it certainly includes that, if necessary. But John takes us in a different direction. He suggests that laying down our lives for one another is not necessarily dying for one another – but living for and sacrificing for one another. Look at verse 17, “But whoever has this world’s goods – the word speaks of possessions necessary for life – it’s not just stuff, but the stuff of life – whoever has that, and sees his brother or sister – spiritual family is the idea – in need and closes his heart against him or her, how does the love of God abide in him? You see, laying down your life for someone means caring for them, sacrificing for them, even if it costs you the stuff of life.
Yesterday, we had a marriage conference here, led by Paul David Tripp. It was a video series of four sessions. In the fourth session, Tripp defined love this way, “Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not demand reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving.” Doesn’t that describe God’s love for us? It’s what John calls us to, now.
I’ve had two conversations recently – actually this week – that help understand this in very practical ways. One suggested to me that we can and should actually and actively care for one another during this time of COVID terror and lockdown. We hear it, over and over – on the news, on social media – that one of the greatest challenges during this year has been loneliness. Being alone. Lack of relationships. Zoom just doesn’t quite cut it, does it? Therapists/counselors cannot keep up with the demand.
And yet, many have found ways to not be alone, not be lonely, not be depressed. We have family – others surrounding us. But what about those who don’t? Do you know that we have brothers and sisters who are part of our spiritual family who could use a touch? A visit – actual people contact. Oh I know, that goes against all protocols. But maybe, just maybe, the protocols aren’t always right. I knew I would get myself in trouble when I wrote that paragraph – but I’m simply suggesting we find intentional ways to connect with people. We need each other.
During this time of COVID lockdown, maybe laying down your life for another is not being quite so concerned about the possibility of getting the virus. Maybe you can actually look for ways to care for other people. Pick up the phone. Write a card. Send some flowers or chocolates. Visit with people through a window. I don’t know. All I know is people in our family are hurting. Are you hiding – protecting yourself – or are you willing to lay down your life for a brother or sister?
Joel Belz, founder of World Magazine, recently published an article saying he took an unofficial poll regarding this pandemic. He asked people, what has been the greatest challenge for you this year? He suggested the overwhelming majority of those he asked responded with one word, masks. He, nor I, are suggesting we ditch the masks. They have proven somewhat effective – the data is mixed. But, he did write:
“Practicing Christians should pay attention. Intentional or otherwise, the wholesale masking of a population has produced a profoundly negative effect on at least three behaviors central to Biblical living. Christians are expected to gather often and committedly. Christians are expected to share the sacraments when they gather. And Christians are expected to sing when they gather!
“I am astonished that a number of WORLD readers are reporting to me that it has now been a year—and more—since the churches of which they are members have welcomed them to these practices [gathering, sacraments, singing] ordained by God, and intended for our nourishment in all kinds of ways. When we begin paying more attention to the demands of civil authorities than we do to God’s gentle commands, why should we expect happy results?
“The church has already taken an incredible hit in terms of lost opportunity to offer ministry and personal care. Those masks have covered up much more than people’s faces.”
I know some of you will not agree, and I am not suggesting we take off the masks. I am suggesting that we be the church – and seek creative ways to love one another.
A second person said to me, when I preached on loving one another from chapter 2, that she was concerned that all this encouragement would do is give people who are already committed to their own group, to be more committed to their own group. And those who are overlooked will continue to be overlooked. Can I encourage us to be the church to each other – find someone you don’t know – or know well – and care for them. Reach out to them. Let’s love one another.
Notice the last verse, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue (and the idea is, with words alone), but in deed/action and truth.” In other words, while I suggested a few weeks ago that we become more verbal with our expressions of love and encouragement to one another – I am now suggesting we do so in action. Let’s love one another in deed and truth. Our loving actions toward each other must be based on the truth of God’s word and His gentle commands.