Sermon Series on First John, “Collecting Evidence of Faith”
“Love one another/Love not the world”, 2:7-17 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Love, the Mark of the Believer, 7-11…
“Dear friends, I am not writing a new command…” What John’s saying is nothing new; it’s as old as Cain and Abel. When we fail to love others we’re prone to self-idolatry, selfishly elevating ourselves as #1. This puts us in the dark. People who hate refuse to give to others the benefit of the doubt they generously give themselves. They want mercy but won’t offer it, which renders them morally disabled. People who choose spiritual darkness have lost their sense of moral balance and direction. They become insensitive to sin. Hate leads to greater darkness. John is also writing about believers who feel justified in not loving sinners. It’s easy to feel righteous indignation when we hear of people who are blatantly immoral. We forget that were it not for God’s grace, we’d be just as depraved and deprived. God doesn’t save us because we’re holier than others, but in spite of our sin.
John was the youngest of the 12 disciples, and his adolescent antagonism got riled one day by people who rejected his Master. So he asked Jesus if it might be fitting to call fire down from heaven upon the unbelievers (Luke 9). Isn’t that something we’ve all wanted to do from time to time? “God, get them!” John had to learn to love, and he did.
We use this word “love” so much that it has lost much of its meaning. Love isn’t merely a feeling, affection or attraction; it’s how we interact with people. Love is an unconditional, initiative, unselfish, sacrificial, compassionate, mature commitment to another. “It is only because Jesus first fulfilled the commandment of love that we can now fulfill it” (Vine).
The Bible tells us to love even our enemies. A few weeks ago I prayed for Israel in church, and someone after the service told me I should pray for Lebanon as well. I reluctantly said, “OK, but I’m not praying for Hezbollah!” And that was wrong of me. Hezbollah needs prayer that they’ll want to live at peace with their fellow Moslems, with Christians, and Jews. There’s no peace apart from living God’s love. We don’t have a right to hate even if we’re in the right, even if we’ve been unjustly hurt. People may mistreat us, but we must respond with love.
Pastoral Encouragement, 12-14…
While John could be describing people at different stages of spiritual growth and maturity, his encouragement in verses 12-14 applies to all followers of Christ. How does John describe Christians? They are forgiven (vs 12); they know God (vss 13-14); they’re strong (vs 14); God’s word is in them (vs 14); and they’re overcoming the “evil one” (vss 13-14). These are qualities of true believers.
Twice John mentions our struggle against the devil. We’re soldiers waging a spiritual battle, an inner war, as we combat sin. We’re on the front lines and fully engaged. There are many tempting voices, calling to us, clamoring for our attention: “buy this, try that, indulge yourself!” If we’re to say “yes” to God we must say “no” to self. That isn’t easy. The strength to overcome the seduction of material things, of power and importance is not physical, but lies in the power of God’s word and the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah comforts us, “Even youths will grow tired and weary, and vigorous young will stumble with exhaustion; but those who wait for the Lord will find new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint” (40:30-31). John is writing to assure us that the status of our faith is true and complete. Our confidence is in the Lord.
Love not the World, 15-17…
Our world is temporal. Scientists predict that eventually the world will cease to exist. Nothing material lasts forever. It makes no sense to pin our hopes on a transitory world. Our immaterial souls will remain long after our mortal bodies decay and long after the world passes away. In death life is changed, not ended. C.S. Lewis observed, “There are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever.” We live in an imperfect, impermanent world, but we’re headed toward one that is both perfect and permanent.
The “world” is a technical/theological term. When John speaks of the world, he means more than the physical realm. He’s denoting a morally corrupt system that is at odds against God; the world in all its fallenness and rebellion. The world is not the way God originally made it. It is polluted by sin. We’re not to be lured by the world’s corrupt values, its materialistic pleasures, and godless ambitions. John is warning us not to get too comfortable here, because the world is not our true home. Paul warns us in Romans 12:2 (Phillips translation), “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mold.” We cannot be at home where Jesus was homeless. The world is a threat to us. Holiness is practicing the presence of God; worldliness is practicing the absence of God.
What perils face us in the world? 3 things (vs 16): the lust of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. Material cravings keep us from living for Jesus. This mirrors the progression of sin in Genesis 3, the Fall. When Eve “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (vs 6). Avoiding temptation doesn’t mean having nothing to do with the world. We can’t retreat to a cave somewhere. We’re in the world, but we don’t have to be worldly. I got a postcard from a friend which stated, “I can resist anything but temptation!” We’re tempted when we consider sin as an option; we don’t want to discourage it completely.
Our problem is that we’re having a love affair with the world. We misplace our priorities when personal comfort replaces our commitment to Christ. Anything that dampens our love for God is of the world. Worldliness is going to the world to get our needs met (Arthur). We need to remain faithful to God by forsaking the allure and attachment of the world. God can help us keep our cravings under His control. C.S. Lewis mentions that in our earthly journey we may come across some very comfortable, delightful places along the way, but we’d best not mistake them for our true Home.
Worldliness can’t be easily reduced to lists of do’s and don’ts. A Fundamentalist Christian college had a strict dress code, and worldly clothes weren’t permitted. The guys had to wear suits, which is what many call the “dress for success” look, which is very worldly attire in our “Donald Trump world” of big business.
People who find their identity in work will be unfulfilled. People who seek material prosperity will be disappointed. People who live for selfish pleasure will never be satisfied. People who live for now will be sad later…but: “Those who do the will of God live forever” (17). Their goals are eternal. Their destiny is everlasting. Jesus called fishermen to leave their nets and follow Him. It couldn’t have been easy for them to leave all they knew and risk the unknown with a nomadic teacher who had no place to lay His head.
Darkness and light, love and hate, God and the world, cannot coexist; they’re incompatible. God calls us to make a radical break from sin and self. He calls us to show unconditional love towards people in the world while at the same time renouncing the world. Viewed as people, the world must be loved; viewed as a corrupt system opposed to God, the world is not to be loved. We who stand for God stand out in sharp contrast from the world.
Love is the distinctive mark of the Christian. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Francis Schaeffer points out that, “If we do not show love to one another, the world has a right to question whether Christianity is true.” If it is not noticeable that we love one another, it is very unlikely that we love one another. Sometimes our ability to love gets severely tested. By showing love to the unlovable, to those who don’t love us back, even those who oppose us, we know that we’re genuinely God’s children. We are called to display visible Christianity.