Summary: How are we to live a life that pleases God? By showing God’s love to those around us. By holding firm to the truth of the gospel, that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, came to die for our sins and has risen again to bring us eternal life.
I want to talk about how we can live to please God. But first I suppose I should check whether that is one of your desires in life? Do you want to please God? Do you ask yourself regularly will this activity, this conversation, this friendship please God?
Well, if that is your desire, let me tell you how you can achieve it. In fact, let me tell you how John says we can do it. He tells us in 1 John 3:21-23. If you’ve got your Bibles with you have a look. What does he say? “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” It so simple isn’t it? If you want to please him, believe in his name and love one another.
Well, it’s simple but in practise it’s often not easy, is it? John obviously doesn’t think it’s easy, because he spends his entire letter reinforcing these two points. He begins by reminding them of the witness of the apostles to the historical Jesus, truly human, and truly divine. He reminds them of the need to obey Jesus’ commands and to turn back to him for forgiveness when we fail. He reminds them that the whole law can be summarised in the command to love one another. He exhorts us to remain faithful to what we first heard. And then he reminds us of the greatness of the Father’s love that he should call us his children and he says those who don’t love their brothers and sisters are not from God.
Well, today we find these two themes being developed further. First the call to love one another, and then the call to remain faithful to what we’ve been told about Jesus Christ.
He begins, as John often does, by presenting us with a contrast. With a negative that highlights the positive. It’s a contrast between one who loves and one who hates. He contrasts the origin of each emotion, the way it expresses itself, and the practical outcome of each. Let’s look at what he says.
First he reminds them of what they’ve heard from the beginning. What is it? That we should love one another. This was Jesus’ new commandment to his disciples. But how do we do that? Well, he doesn’t tell us straight away does he? Rather he begins with the opposite. He takes the example of Cain who murdered his own brother.
Now why does he pick out Cain? Well, because Cain in a sense represents all of humanity since the fall. It’s significant isn’t it, that the first child born of Adam and Eve ends up killing the second-born child? Sadly, this is what human life is like after the fall. Not that everyone ends up killing their brother or sister, but that human relationships break down. In Cain’s case when the time came to offer a sacrifice to God he chose the easy way out. He brought some of the grain that he’d grown, while Abel brought a choice fat lamb, a costly offering. So God was pleased with Abel but not with Cain. And how did Cain react? He didn’t repent and ask for forgiveness. No, he reacted with jealousy and rage towards his younger brother.
Have you noticed how, even in the closest relationships, in the family and even in the church, jealousy and envy can creep in, anger can take over, petty rivalries can grow into deep divisions. Why does that happen? Well, he tells us in v12. He says Cain did it because he belonged to the evil one. Cain had allowed himself to be brought down by Satan. John here may well be thinking back to Jesus’ words in John 8:44 where he says to the Pharisees: “You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.” (John 8:44 NRSV) Why does he say the devil was a murderer from the beginning? Because the murder of Abel by Cain was the devil’s first success following the fall. Because the fall itself brought death to all humanity.
But what’s the murder of Abel got to do with love and hate? Well, think about what Jesus said about hatred in the sermon on the mount? “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council...” (Mat 5:21-22 NRSV) So John’s simply following Jesus when he says “All who hate a brother or sister are murderers.” (v15)