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TEXT: I John 4:7-12
SUBJECT: I John #12: Reasons to Love the Brethren
If I counted correctly, today's New Testament Lesson marks the seventh time I John tells us to love the brethren. This would be remarkable, even in the much longer Gospel of John, but in an Epistle you could easily read in five minutes? It just goes to show you how important Brotherly Love once was to John-how important it still is to his Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. Love for your brothers and sisters in Christ is an irreplaceable part of your discipleship, without which, you ought to wonder if you're a disciple at all! Do faith and obedience matter? Of course they do! But no more than Brotherly Love. It's one of those things you must have to be a follower of Christ in this world-or to have a part in the world to come.
Little children, let us love one another.
This is what our Lord wants us to do, and by His Word and Spirit, what He enables us to do, however imperfectly. This is why we ought to be challenged by the duty to love one another, but not overwhelmed by it. If left to ourselves, we'd love no one but ourselves. But we're not left to ourselves, for John has already told us-
He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
V.7 begins a new paragraph, and opens with the charming word, Beloved. John is about to tell us to love one another, but before he gets to that, he tells us that he loves us. From other men, this might well be technique, a way of getting us to let down our guard so he can hit us with the fist of command. With John, it isn't. As a young man, he preferred himself to others, and if he had to step on the heads of other people to rise in his career, he was more than willing to do it. But not now. The Spirit of Christ had been working on him for seventy years, and now, at long last, the disciple whom Jesus loved has become a loving man himself.
From this, I and my fellow pastors should learn the lesson we already know, but so often forget: 'Actions speak louder than words'. We ought to have more and better sermons on 'brotherly love', but more than preaching better, we need to set better examples; we need to be more than 'nice guys', pleasant men, easy-enough to get along with. People ought to see us as patterns of brotherly love, and by looking at our lives, say, 'Oh, that's how you do it'. Lord, have mercy!
After assuring us of his own love, John turns to the command-
Let us love one another.
Three things caught my attention. First, the grammar assures us that this is an ongoing duty. We're not to love 'now and then' or 'when we're not tired or busy' or 'have nothing else on our minds'. No such qualification is given! The Lord wants us to keep on loving one another, or, as another verse says-
Let brotherly love continue.
The second thing I noticed was the word, us. He doesn't think of 'brotherly love' as a specialized work. Some people are called to teach, but others are not. Instead of pushing people into the pulpit, James tries to hold them back-
Let not many of you be teachers.
But if preaching is only for the men called to it, every Christian is called to brotherly love-whether he was converted five minutes ago, or in 1963. Whether he's a warm cuddly person or a cold fish; whether 'he's got the time' or not.
The third thing is even more daunting, to me, at least. Let us love.one another-not just the ones whose personalities mesh with your own. Or who agree with you on politics or culture.
In my lifetime, the two most polarizing American presidents are the last two: President Obama and President Trump. I have never talked to anyone who either loved them both, or hated them both. And not many who had mixed feelings about them both. Whether they mean to be or not, they are incredibly divisive figures. And here's the thing: Sincere Christians are on both sides of the divide. You may think they're fools for voting for one or the other, but, whatever you think of their politics.are you willing to love them? Not 'put up with them', but truly, humbly, and maybe at some real cost to you, love them? This is what John tells us to do. And not only John. You can do this without building a wall or approving of same-sex marriage!
Beloved, let us love one another.
This is the command, and as servants of the Lord, it is all we require. Lords do not have to 'explain their thinking' to their servants. 'Because I said so!' is a good enough reason.
But, back in John's Gospel 15:15, our Lord said-
I no longer call you 'servants', but 'friends'.
This means He does explain Himself to us-maybe not always to our satisfaction-but He supports His good wishes with good reasons. This is what Christ does in the verses before us; He tells us why we ought to love one another.
THE CHARACTER OF GOD
God's Character is the first reason we're to love one another. At the bottom of v.8, John says-
God is love.
In other words, love is an attribute of God, and like all the others, it is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. God has never not loved; nor can He ever stop loving. As John says in another place, He-
Cannot deny Himself.
God can never be anything but what He is; He can never act inconsistently with His fixed nature. Even the best men can sometimes 'act out of character'; he can say, 'I'm not myself today'. And others might add, 'That's not like him at all'. But the Lord is always like Himself. He is always Love and always loving.
This is not to say that we can always recognize His love. At times, in fact, God seems indifferent to us, even against us, mean, hateful. But what feels like 'hate' is His deeper love, a love so ferocious that He's willing to put us through Hell in this life to keep us out of Hell in the life to come!
Thus, we're to say, with Job-
Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him!
In Adam, you were made in the likeness and image of God, to be like Him in appropriate ways, and nothing in God is more appropriate for us than Brotherly Love. The Image was badly marred in the Fall, but in Christ, it-or rather, you-are being remade into the True Image. And, however else that Image is seen in the world, it is seen first and foremost in Brotherly Love.
This reminds us of the value of Devotional Reading, Praying, and Thinking. You won't become 'like God' by thinking about yourself-either by how great you are, or how bad! You only become like God by thinking about.God! Meditating on the Beauty and Holiness and Generosity of God. If worshiping idols make you 'like them' (which it does, according to Psalm 115), then worshiping God makes you like.Him.
THE GIFT OF GOD
If our Brotherly Love starts with the Character of God, it soon turns to His Gift, vv.9, 10b-
In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His Only Begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.to be the propitiation for our sins.
The key word in this passage may well be manifested. The death of Christ did not force a Reluctant God to love us. Rather, Christ died because God already loved us, loved us before our sins were forgiven, before our lives were changed, before we had even a smidgen faith, hope, or love! He was found by those who were not seeking Him; our love for Him is but the faintest echo of His love for us!
What God said to Israel, He now says to us-
Yea, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore, with loving kindness have I drawn you.
This manifesting of God's Love reminds us that Love is more than a warm feeling or even the desire to do good.
It is not dreaming about serving others or planning to serve them, but actually serving them! Even when it cuts you're your spare time or your bank account; even when it means showing hospitality to people who bore you to tears! Or visiting the bereaved when you don't know what to say! Or risking a friendship by telling someone what he doesn't want to hear!
Only at the Cross can we see how costly Love is, how dearly it cost the One who has everything! And, only at the Cross do we begin to feel the weight of our Lord's words-
Continue in my love.
Not your kind of love or mine, the world's, or the devil's, but His love, the sort of love Christ has for us-and showed us as the One and Only Righteous Man hung between two thieves!
His Love saw our need. We were under the wrath of God, in debt to His justice a debt we could never pay off. So Jesus paid it off for us. He suffered the wrath of God, and in this way, satisfied His justice, or became, in the words of v.10-
The propitiation for our sins.
THE DESIGN OF HIS LOVE FOR US
In Ephesians 1, Paul says God set His love on us so that we would become holy. Not that we ought to be holy so that He would love us, but because He loved us. One part of this holiness appears in v.12-
If we love one another.His love is perfected in us.
Fine scholars and great preachers have said all manner of wacky things about this verse (some of them true and beautiful), but it seems to me the plainest interpretation is also the best.
For God's love to be perfected means it accomplishes what it set out to do. And, what God's love set out to do is to make us a loving people, loving others (on a lower level) as He loves them.
This means loving people who don't deserve it, who don't want it, who will take advantage of it, and won't even say 'thank you' for it! This is how God loves us, and what His love enables us to do for others: to love them-as is!
John is so confident in the transforming power of God's love, that he assumes the people who are not transformed by that love are not born of God or even know Him.
In other words, while Brotherly Love will cost you dearly, it will also more than repay you. Assurance without Brotherly Love is Presumption. While it is true that no one loves as he ought to, that we're all on different levels of brotherly love, and that there are time when we're more 'brotherly' than others, John knows that everyone who is loved by God loves God's People. Not perfectly or all the time. But really, truly loves them.
This reminds us that loving others is not only glorifying to God and helpful to others, it's also good for us. Like wisdom, brotherly love is-
Health to thy navel
And marrow to thy bones!
THE CHALLENGE AND THE GOSPEL
I can't imagine how anyone could read these words without saying, 'uh oh!' When I remember that God's love is more than 'being nice', that it cost Him the life of His Only Begotten Son, and that all who have Him will have it, I can only wonder if I have Him at all? I want Him and I want the assurance of having Him, but.if that depends on me practicing a God-like love for others.
Until I look away from myself to Christ, who has already proven He can love others and that He can produce the same love for others in them.
Was John, by nature, a better man than I? No he wasn't! If anything, he was worse than I because, unlike him, I never asked Jesus to nuke an unfriendly city! But this man, this 'son of thunder', this self-seeking fellow became the disciple of love. How? Not by making himself into one, but by trusting the love of God in Christ to make him into what he wasn't by nature or choice, but became by grace.
The One he trusted I commend to your trust (and mine too). Believe in the God who loved you; the God who died for you; the God who is now reconciled to you (or wants to be)! Seek Him, and you'll find Him, and with Him, brotherly love.
In I John you'll find reasons to love one another; in Christ, you'll find the power to do it! Amen.
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