Sermon Message: Extravagant Devotion
Sermon Message: Even the Death of the Cross
Sermon Message: God Is For Us!
Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
Sermon Message: O Worship the King
1 John 4:19-5:1
(Delivered Sunday, June 23, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
The apostle John, near the end of his gospel, tells about a conversation between the apostle Peter and the resurrected Lord Jesus. I'd like us to begin this morning by considering the story of this remarkable little conversation.
Just a short while before this conversation occurred, Peter had done the worst thing that he could have imagined doing. While his beloved Lord and Master was being unjustly arrested, Peter - who had previously been so devoted to Jesus, and who had boasted of his readiness to die with Jesus - had become afraid and denied three times that he even knew who Jesus was. Peter's denial of Jesus turned him from a self-confident boaster, into a broken and humiliated man who was painfully aware of his sinful failings.
But in spite of all this, the Lord still loved Peter very much. Even before Peter had failed the Lord, Jesus promised that He would still love him and give him the honored task of strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32). After Jesus rose from the dead, He ordered the angels to announce to the women at the tomb, "... Go, tell His disciples - and Peter - that He is going before you into Galilee ..." (Mark 16:7). The Bible even tells us that, before the Lord presented Himself to any of the other disciples after He was raised from the dead, He made a special, private appearance to His beloved but unfaithful disciple Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5). The Bible tells us nothing of what went on in that private meeting; but I'm quite sure that, in it, Peter confessed all His failings to the Savior, and Jesus comforted him and assured him of His unending love.
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By the way; before we go any further, I wonder if that's a particular encouragement to you. Perhaps you have a sense that you've let the Lord down too. At a time when you should have taken a stand for Him, perhaps you too have denied that you even knew Him. Perhaps you're painfully aware today of some way in which you've dreadfully failed the Lord and dishonored His love for you. I believe Peter's story is meant to be an encouragement to you. You may fail Jesus; but I believe He wants you to know that His love for you will never fail - just as it did not fail Peter. Jesus holds out an extended hand to every one of His wayward disciples; and He is ready to forgive, comfort and restore them just as He did to Peter - if they will only let Him.
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And now, back to our story. After Jesus' resurrection, and after His private appearance to Peter, Peter and some of the other disciples returned to their old business of fishing. They saw Jesus on the shore; and Peter - who could never tolerate ANY distance between himself and the Lord, even when that distance was across water - immediately jumped out of the boat and swam to Jesus. The others came in the boat to shore, and brought some of the fish they caught; and together they enjoyed a wonderful breakfast with the Lord.
It was then that Jesus entered into this little conversation with Peter. Perhaps gesturing toward the other disciples as He ate, Jesus asked, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" (John 21:15).
What a question! And there was a time when Peter would have been very quick to stick out his chest and loudly proclaimed, "You bet, Lord! Nobody loves you more than I do!" But now that Peter had already proven the shallowness of his love by the fact that he denied the Lord, he wasn't so quick to stick out his chest and boast.
In the original language, Jesus had asked Peter if he "loved" Him - using the Greek word agape; which is a word that describes a self-sacrificing, self-giving love. But what could Peter say to such a question? Certainly, he didn't much show self-sacrificing, self-giving love toward Jesus when he openly denied that he even knew Him. Peter - perhaps timidly - answered Jesus' question by using a different word. What he said can be translated this way: "Yes, Lord; you know that I 'have affection for' You." And in response, Jesus said, "Feed My lambs."
A little later, Jesus again turned to Peter and asked the same question: "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" I suspect that this second question caught Peter by surprise. Was Jesus so uncertain of Peter's love? For that matter, was Peter so sure that is own claim to love was genuine? Once again Peter responded with the same qualified, timid answer; "Yes, Lord; You know that I 'have affection for' You". And again, Jesus responded with the order, "Tend My sheep" (v. 16).
Jesus turned to Peter a third time; but this time, He asked the question a little differently. Using the same word Peter used, Jesus asked, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you 'have affection for' Me"? The Bible tells us that Peter was grieved that Jesus asked this. Perhaps he was grieved that Jesus kept asking - even though the fact was that he had given Jesus plenty of reason to question the sincerity of his answer. Perhaps Peter even detected a gentle rebuke in the fact that Jesus condescended to use Peter's cautious choice of words. Peter, a little wounded and yet still very conscious of his own failings, said, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I 'have affection for' You." What else could he say but to admit that the Lord could look into his heart and know the truth. And again, Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep" (v. 17).
I would like to suggest that what Jesus truly WAS gently rebuking Peter. And it wasn't because of what Peter had done. His denial of the Lord was already forgiven. Instead, I believe it was because of what Peter - assured of Jesus' love for him - was now NOT doing. Jesus had showered unmerited love upon His failed, flawed, but forgiven disciple. But Peter was still hesitant to respond to that love in the way that Jesus was now commanding him to respond - that is, by now loving his brethren and meeting their needs.
I can't blame Peter for feeling painfully unworthy to meet the needs of Jesus' sheep. But his hesitancy to do as Jesus now called him to do was, in actual fact, a selfish response to Jesus' pardoning love. Peter's hesitancy revealed that he still had the focus of attention on himself. Jesus then told him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish" (v. 18). In saying this, Jesus was telling Peter what, according to church history, would happen to him later in life - that is, that Peter himself was to later be crucified by the Romans for his faith in the Lord he had once denied. And Jesus was now urging Peter to do spiritually what would one day be done to him in body - that is, to be crucified to self; and was now calling him give himself over, in response to Jesus' pardoning love, to serve the needs of his brethren. After Jesus had spoken these words, He said to Peter, "Follow Me".
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And what about you and me? Haven't we also been the recipients of Jesus' unmerited love and forgiveness? Hasn't He also pardoned us for our failings and accepted us as His own in spite of our unworthiness? Don't we also now stand in His grace and bask in His love as forgiven sinners? The great question then is this: what have you and I done in response to that love? Jesus tells us here how to respond to His pardoning, gracious love toward us. He calls us to die to our own self-interests, and to love one another and meet one another's needs as if they were our own. Does that required response to Jesus' love now characterize our lives?
Jesus looks to you and I today and asks - just as He asked Peter - if we really, truly love Him. And if we say that we do, He then turns our attention to our brother or sister and asks if we have fed them yet. If we say we love Jesus because He so greatly loved us, then have we loved our brother or sister in response to His love? To my mind, that little conversation between Peter and our Lord serves as a wonderful backdrop to this morning's passage. John, who was there to witness that conversation between Jesus and Peter, writes these words;
We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him (1 John 4:19-5:1).
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The apostle John speaks so much of love in this little letter, that it might be easy for people today - with our distorted ideas of what love really means - to mistakenly think that John had become a soft-skinned, aging 'peace-nick' who had gotten in touch with his feminine side. But if you know the New Testament at all, you know that Jesus had a special nickname for John and his brother James. He called them "Sons of Thunder" (Mark 3:17). Before Jesus had tempered their spirits, these two brothers were prepared to call down the very fire of heaven in order to destroy anyone who dared to opposed their ministry (Luke 9:54)! History tells us that the apostle John was the one disciple that the enemies of the gospel had the hardest time martyring! When someone like THAT talks about love, he isn't giving us sentimental little lecture on some wimpy, wishy-washy feeling. For John, love was something tough, honest, discerning and verifiable. If someone says they love God, but at the same time harbors hate in his or her heart toward another believer, John isn't afraid to flatly call such a person a liar! Whatever they may say about how much they love God, the evidence proves that they don't love God like they say they do! In this passage, John mercilessly yanks the mask off of all hypocritical pretenses of love in the body of Christ; and he calls us to a real, authentically gutsy love of God in truth!
Now let's get honest. When I quote those words about hating one's brother, is there someone that the Holy Spirit immediately brings into your mind? Are you, at this very moment, aware of a brother or sister in Christ toward whom you harbor resentment, or bitterness, or unforgiveness; and with whom, before this day, you had no intention whatsoever of loving? Is there someone in the body of Christ toward whom, up to this point, you have resisted God's call upon you to love and serve? Is there a needy brother or sister in the body that God is bringing to your attention; but whose needs you have, until now, refused to meet when it was clearly in your power to do so?
Perhaps that brother or sister is in this church building today. Perhaps he or she attends another church. Perhaps it's the member of a denomination or tradition of the Christian faith that you don't dislike. Perhaps it's a brother or sister from an ethnic background that you resent. Perhaps it's a whole church, or a whole denomination, or a whole ethnic group that you hate. Perhaps - and consider this carefully! - it's a brother or sister in Christ who also happens to be a member of your own family. Whoever that brother or sister is, know - by the authority of God's own word - that you cannot love God and NOT love that person at the same time. If you choose not to love them, then you need to know that when you say that you love God, you are a liar. God Himself - through His servant John - says so.
Now that this Son of Thunder has your attention, let's look a little closer at what he wrote. Let's please be open to the Holy Spirit this morning, and allow Him - through His servant John - to show us the truth. The first thing we see, as we look at this passage, is ...
1. THE LOVE OF GOD TO WHICH WE RESPOND (4:19).
John says, in one of the shortest yet profoundest verses in his letter, "We love Him because He first loved us." The word "Him" is not found in the most reliable Greek texts; and so the New American Standard Bible translates it correctly: "We love, because He first loved us."
The vast majority of people in the world have the order of those two realities completely backwards. They believe that God is obliged to love them because they first loved Him. They are sure that God must look down upon them and see all the good works and saintly deeds they do, and simply must them them in response! They believe that God is the "responder" in the exchange of love, not them.
But to believe that God is somehow obligated to love us because of a love we first show toward Him is to be horribly mistaken about our true situation before Him. The Bible teaches us that, apart from Christ, we were "dead" in our trespasses and sins; and we were so blind and helpless in our lost condition that we wouldn't even have had the capacity to love God unless God had mercy on us and loved us FIRST! The Bible says that "God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ ..." (Eph. 2:4-5). Jesus let His disciples know the proper order of things when He said, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you ..." (John 15:16). Apart from God's grace toward us in Christ, whatever it is we think we might be showing toward Him isn't love.
Do you love Jesus Christ today? Do you love His Father? Then make sure you got things in the right order. You don't deserve any credit for having that love in your heart. That love is a gift of God's own grace to you; and it is in you ONLY because He first loved you. You are the "responder" in the exchange of love; and ALL the thanks goes to Him!
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Earlier in the letter, John essentially makes this same point when he writes, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:10-11). If we truly love God, then our love for God is a response to the love He first showed toward us in showering His saving grace upon us through Jesus Christ.
And did you notice how we are to respond to God's unmerited love for us in Christ? "If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" This leads us to the next thing I'd like you to notice in this passage ...
2. THE REQUIRED RESPONSE TO GOD'S LOVE (4:20a).
John writes, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar ..." In other words, the requirement of our response to God's love is that we love our brother or sister in Christ. We must love our fellow believer to be truly loving to God; otherwise, our claim to love God is declared to be false.
It's been my experience that even the most hardened of unbelievers is willing to talk about two things - so long as you don't get into specifics about them: 'God' and 'love'. It's always interesting, for example, to talk about "God"; and people are always eager to share their thoughts and reflections on Him. But the moment you start to get specific and point to what God has revealed about Himself in the Scriptures - or, even more specifically, to point to Jesus' own claims about Himself (that is, that He and the Father are one, or that no one can come to the Father except through Him, or that whoever does not have Him does not have the Father) - then the conversation usually ends in a hurry. And yet, the Bible clearly teaches us that we cannot know God apart from His Son Jesus Christ. We can't truly know God unless we are rightly oriented to the Biblical specifics.
Similarly, people everywhere love to talk about "love". After all, "all you need is love." "Love will make you happy," "It's the only thing that there's just too little of." But just begin talking about the real meaning of love as it's found in the Bible, or point to what the Bible teaches about the obligations of love, and you're starting to get to specific for most people's tastes. But once again, we can't really know what love is all about unless we are rightly oriented to biblical specifics about love.
Here, John combines the two subjects. He gives us some specifics about both God and love; and shows us that if we say that we love God and yet hate our brother, we are liars. This takes God Himself out of the realm of a vaguely sentimental Being, and love out of the realm of mere feelings, and brings things into solid, biblical specifics.
John is basically saying that, if we're not rightly oriented to the specifics about the God we say we love, our about the love we say we feel, then we're lying. Five times in John's letter, he speaks of "liars". John tells us that, if we say that we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar (1:10). And he also tells us that whoever does not believe the witness God has given us of His Son Jesus Christ makes God out to be a liar (5:10). It's serious enough to be a liar; but it's even worse to call God a liar! Then, John tells us that, whoever says that he knows God, yet does not keep God's commandments, is a liar (2:4); and that whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ is a liar (2:22). And here, we see that whoever says he loves God, and yet does not love his brother, is a liar.
Read through this letter; and it will amaze you how many different ways John stresses this same truth. For example, he writes, "He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in the darkness until now" (2:9). Or, "... He who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes" (2:11). "Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God," John writes, "nor is he who does not love his brother" (3:10). "He who does not love his brother abides in death" (3:14). "... Whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (3:17). "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (4:8).
Clearly God is not the sentimental, indiscriminate Deity that the world often portrays Him to be. The Bible reveals to us that God is unspeakably holy, and will not tolerate sin in His midst; and therefore those who have fellowship with Him must "walk in the light as He is in the light" (1:7). And love toward God isn't the sentimental, indiscriminate "feeling" that the world portrays it to be either. The Bible reveals to us that it's impossible for us to love God and hate our brother at the same time. Whoever says that they love God, and yet hates their brother, is a liar.
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Now, John is speaking here of "believers"; but I don't believe that this implies that it's okay for us to hate "non-believers". Jesus commanded us, "... Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven ..." (Matthew 5:44). The apostle Paul commanded us to "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice" (Eph. 4:31). Hatred is an inappropriate thing to be found in the heart of a true disciple of Jesus Christ - no matter who that hatred might be toward. But it is an especially inappropriate thing to be found in the heart of one disciple of Christ toward another!
Nor do I believe that all this means that we don't, at times, have genuine disagreements with our brothers or sisters in Christ. Even people who deeply love one another sometimes strongly disagree with each other. Rather, what John is speaking of in this passage is a pattern of resentment, or bitterness, or unforgiveness, or malice toward another professing believer - a deliberate closing-up of the heart toward a brother or sister; or even a deep-seated disdain for a fellow believer.
Why is hatred for a believer a thing so inappropriate and out of place in the heart of another believer? Why is love for our brothers and sisters a requirement for loving God? This leads us, next, to consider ...
3. THE REASONS FOR THIS REQUIRED RESPONSE TO GOD'S LOVE:
A first principle is one that we might call "the principle of observability". John writes, "If someone says, 'I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has not seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" Put another way, we aren't truly loving the invisible God if we don't love our visible brother.
When I read this, I think of what the apostle Peter wrote to a group of Christians who were undergoing terrible persecution for their faith. Peter encouraged them that their faith was being tested in the trials of persecution - refined in the fire, as it were - so that the genuineness of their faith may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. And he speaks to them of this Jesus, "whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8). These believers had never seen Jesus personally. And yet, their love for Him was clearly manifested to everyone.
This brings us back to John's point. How can we say that we truly love God, whom we have not seen, if we don't truly love the brother who is right in front of us? Just a few verse prior to this passage, John wrote, "No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us" (1 John 4:12).
There used to be an old "ditty", often shared in church circles, that went something like this:
One reason, then, for the requirement of love toward my brother is found in the principle of observation. It's certainly a much easier thing to see the brother or sister in Christ that stands in front of me than it is to see God. And if I love the one that I can see, then it's reliable proof that my love for the One I can't see is genuine. On the other hand, if I refuse to love the brother I see, how can my claim love the unseen God be trusted?
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Another reason for this requirement of love can be found in what we might call "the principle of obedience". John writes, "And this is the commandment we have from Him [that is, from Jesus Himself]: that he who loves God must love his brother also". Put another way, we really aren't loving the Lord if we refuse to obey His command to love our brother.
Jesus has told us that true love for Him is inseparable from obedience to Him. We can talk all we wish about loving Him; but it's all phony, sentimental religiosity if we aren't keeping His commandments. "Why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord'," Jesus once asked, "and not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). "If you keep My commandments," He taught us, "you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10). "For this is the love of God," John writes, "that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). And the new commandment that Jesus Himself gave us is this: "... that you love one another" (John 13:34).
And this brings us, again, to why love toward God requires that I also love my brother. It's based on the principle of obedience. If we say that we love God, but we refuse to love our brother, then what we're doing is refusing to obey God's command - which is that we love our brother. And as John has already told us, "He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4).
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A final reason for this requirement is found in what we could call "the principle of origin". John states this principle in these words; "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him" (1 John 5:1). Another way of putting this is that we can't love the Father if we don't also love His children.
If it were up to us, we might be tempted to carefully define who we consider to be our "brother" or "sister" before we'll commit to love them. For as long as I live, I'll never forget something I saw on television in my younger days, during the civil rights movement in the sixties. The news was reporting on a confrontation between a black church and a white church in the south. Believers from the black church were pleading with the members of the white church to be allowed to pray together with them. I can still remember the sickening words of the white church members who were pushing the black Christians away; insisting to them, "No. It's fine that you want to pray. But you need to pray with your kind; and we will pray with our kind." The white church members didn't consider the black church members to be "brethren"; and the criterion was nothing else but the color of skin.
John here tells us the only standard we're to use in determining who is or isn't our brother or sister. "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God". It doesn't matter what the color of someone's skin is, or what denomination they're from, or what cultural or ethnic background they have. It doesn't even matter what they were or what they did before they believed; because every one of us is made into a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). In Christ, we're to recognize a fundamental inward unity between us that transcends all external differences. Paul writes, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph. 4:4-6).
And once again, this brings us to the reason John gives for this requirement of love. If everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and if I truly love the God who has first loved me and caused me to be His child by faith, then I will also love others whom He has also loved and also caused to become His children by faith. I cannot love God as one of His children, and then hate His children at the same time; and it isn't just because God doesn't want a dysfunctional family. It's because if I withhold my love, then I'm maintaining that my standard of distinction from my fellow believer is greater than God's standard of unity between us - and that's a very rebellious thing to maintain.
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In closing, let me take you back again to that story of Peter and his conversation with the resurrected Lord Jesus. Do you, like him, truly love Jesus? Perhaps you recognize that you're love for Him is imperfect; but nevertheless, do you know that He has first loved you by dying on the cross for you, and do you love Him in return? Then, let me dare to say to you as Jesus said to Peter: Feed His lambs. Tend His sheep. Feed His sheep. Love those who are born of Him. Love those He has commanded you to love. Love that brother or sister whom you can see.
Perhaps you now realize this morning that, in all frankness, your refusal to love your brother or sister has made a liar out of you. You have said that you love God; but your unrepentance of the bitterness and resentment and hatred toward that brother or sister has shown that you do not love Him as you say you do. You need to know that God is tender and compassionate toward you; and He is willing to forgive you of the sin of hatred toward a fellow believer in Christ. But make no mistake about it. He will not tolerate it if you continue to hold on to this sin. He loves you too much to allow you to continue to compromise your love for Him.
Please do not delay, then, to confess this sin and turn from it. If that brother or sister knows of your bitter, unforgiving, resentful attitude toward them, and if they have felt the rift that your refusal to love has created between them, then go to them today and humbly seek their forgiveness. Be kind to them, tender-hearted toward them, and forgiving toward them as you have been forgiven in Christ.
Do so, because as Jesus has told us, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
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