Love and Hate.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. – 1 John 3:11 ESV

1 John 3:11-24

Love and hate. God and Satan. Dark and light. Faith and doubt. Belief and disbelief. Children of God and children of the devil. John paints a black and white portrait of life in this world. There are two systems at work and at war with one another. As children of God, we have been placed in the middle of an environment that is opposed to our very existence. The world, as a result of sin, is in rebellion against God. Many in the world reject that very existence of God. Others, unable to explain their own existence and desperate to find meaning for life, have concocted their own versions of God. But to make your own god is nothing short of the rejection of the one true God. The point that John seems to be trying to make is that those who have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ are going to find this world a place of conflict and contrasts. The very fact that we are His children puts us at odds with those who refuse to accept Jesus as the Son of God and the only way to be restored to a right relationship with God. The result is that the world hates us. John confirms that reality. “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13 ESV). Jesus gave us a similar warning. “This is my command: Love each other. If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you” (John 15:17-19 NLT). “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Matthew 10:22 NIV).

John used the example of Cain and Abel – two brothers who should have naturally loved one another – to drive home his message of contrasts. Cain brutally murdered his brother. His act was an outflow of his anger toward and hatred for Abel. But it stemmed from his disbelief in God. He lacked the capacity to love Abel because he was devoid of a love for God. Cain’s sacrifice was unacceptable to God because Cain lacked faith in God. “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain” (Hebrews 11:4 ESV). Abel was motivated by faith in God. He believed in God. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). John makes it clear a little bit later in his letter that God is love. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8 ESV). Love is essence of God. But this is not some kind of sentimental, Hallmark-greeting-card kind of love. This is a selfless, sacrificial, lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love that is not of this world. Without God, Cain couldn’t manufacture this kind of love. But this kind of love is what sets the children of God apart from one another. It was what caused the early church to stand out from the crowd and set it apart as distinctively different. In the book of Acts, we read of the early days of the church as thousands of people from all walks of life and a variety of ethnic backgrounds are coming to faith in Jesus. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45 ESV). That day, there were people from all over the world who heard the good news regarding Jesus Christ. “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” (Acts 2:9-11 ESV). And many of them came to faith and became part of a unique organism called the body of Christ. At that point, they became one in Christ. Their ethnic, economic, cultural, and idealogical differences were overshadowed by the love of God. Paul described the believers in Galatia in similar terms. For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28 NLT). 

Our adoption as sons and daughters by God have placed us all into one new family. God’s love for us manifests itself in a love for one another that is unique and distinctive. No longer is our love based on earthly standards. Our commonality and community is not based on ethnicity, language, economic status, country of origin or level of education. Our unity is based on our relationship with Jesus Christ. So Jews who love Jesus can love Arabs who love Jesus. Muslims who have come to know Jesus as their Savior can call Christians their brothers. Blacks and whites can love one another. Individuals who were once enemies can now worship together because of the transformative power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:14 NLT). Our capacity to love is our calling card. It is what sets us apart. And in this world, it is what sets us up for hatred. This world can’t comprehend that kind of love. It makes no sense. It sees it as a threat. It views it as a weakness. The enemy can’t stand it, because he knows its origin. It is of God. And anything of God is repulsive to him. But God is love and we are God’s children. Love is the greatest expression of our God-likeness. Which is why Paul wrote: “Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT).

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Godly Fellowship.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:7 ESV

John is passing along a message he heard directly from Jesus Himself. It is a simple, yet profound message that gives us a glimpse into the character of God. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). Interestingly enough, in his gospel, John made the claim that Jesus was the light. He wrote, “He was in the beginning with God…In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1,4-5 ESV). Later on John elaborated on this light that had come into the world. He stated that God loved the world so much that He sent His only son that the world might be saved through Him. But when Jesus, the light, arrived into the world, “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21 ESV).

God is light. And as His Son, Jesus is also light. Jesus is not simply a reflection of God, but God in human form. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). When Jesus entered the world, He penetrated the pervasive darkness that permeated everything. Sin had infected the world and the lives of men – even those of the people of God, the Jews. Jesus came to change all that. He came to expose sin. “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV). Jesus didn’t just come to provide us a model for living. He came to provide us with the capacity to live holy, light-filled lives in the midst of a dark, sin-filled world. “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:5-6 ESV). How did Jesus walk? In the light. Jesus was the light and yet He walked in the light of God’s will. This speaks to that mysterious truth regarding the unique nature of Jesus’ divinity and humanity. He was the God-man – 100 percent God and 100 percent man. As the Son of God, He was the image of the invisible God. As the Son of Man, He was a human being who “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT). Jesus walked in the light. He lived in obedience to the commands of God. He allowed the Holy Spirit to direct His path and guide His steps. “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1 ESV). Jesus’ entire life and death was dedicated to doing God’s will. In His high priestly prayer, prayed near the end of His life, Jesus was able to say, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4 ESV). Everything about His life gave evidence that He not only was the light, He walked in the light.

And John wants us to know that we should have the same goal for our own lives. Fellowship with God and with His Son should be accompanied by light, not darkness. To claim to have fellowship with God and yet live a life characterized by darkness or sin is to live a lie. “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6 ESV). The idea here is that of continual, repetitive, unrepentant sin. It is a lifestyle characterized by darkness rather than light. Instead, “whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:7-8 ESV). Our lives should give evidence of our fellowship with God. Our ability to fellowship with one another should give evidence of our fellowship with God. Anything we do that is characterized by righteousness is of God. It is a product of, the fruit of the Spirit of God within us – “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). Living in the light exposes sin in order that we might confess it. But living in the light also produces fruit. It causes our faith to grow. It purifies our character. The more intimate our fellowship with God through Christ, the more intense the light will become in our lives. That light will have an effect on our lives. John puts it succinctly and practically. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness…whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9, 11 ESV). But “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling” (1 John 2:10 ESV). We are to walk in the light, as He is in the light. And that regular, consistent exposure to the light will gradually transform us into the image of Christ.

Light in the Darkness.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. – 1 John 1:6

John used the theme of light and darkness repeatedly. In his gospel, referring to Jesus, he wrote,  “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 ESV). “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:9-11 ESV). The imagery of darkness and light was a common one among the Jews of John’s day. Darkness was associated with evil. Even in the creation account recorded by Moses in the book of Genesis, it describes the state of the universe by using the imagery of light and darkness. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2 ESV). Darkness was the prevailing state. It permeated everything. But God did something. He was not content to leave things as they were. And Moses records, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:3-4 ESV). In his letter, John describes God as light. Light is not just an expression of God’s power, it is the essence of His being. It speaks of His holiness and righteousness. It describes His penetrating, permeating nature. Darkness is the absence of light. Darkness and light cannot coexist. At the beginning of creation, darkness prevailed. But God penetrated the darkness with His very being. His presence changed the condition of the world. He created physical light to eliminate the darkness. He separated one from the other. And this is the very same thing God did when He sent His Son into the world. The apostle Paul tells us, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV). The state of affairs when Jesus arrived on the scene was marked by spiritual darkness. So God penetrated that darkness with His presence once again. But John records, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21 ESV). Jesus came into the world as the very light of God. He came to expose sin by expressing the holiness of God. He lived without sin (Hebrews 4:15) in order to demonstrate the kind of righteousness God’s holiness required. He lived the kind of life that God demanded. And His example exposed the darkness that was so prevalent at the time – even among the people of God. But Jesus didn’t come simply to expose darkness. He came to deliver men from it. He said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46 ESV). Darkness was not intended to be the norm. The presence of darkness is evidence of the absence of light. Jesus came to change all that. And John makes it clear that because God is light, He cannot tolerate darkness. “In him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV).

Yet in John’s day, there were those who claimed to have a relationship with God, but who were living in darkness – in sin. John said that to say one thing and do another was to “not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6 ESV). There was a disconnect between their expressed beliefs and their behavior. They claimed to be in the light, but lived lives characterized by darkness. These same individuals were even claiming to be without sin. They were denying any darkness in their lives. And John said there were self-deceived and void of the truth in their lives. Light exposes darkness. The closer we get to the light, the more flaws get revealed. Increasing intimacy with God makes our sin all the more evident. But John reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). Jesus came to pay for our sins. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2 ESV). Our sins have been paid for. But we must still acknowledge them. We must allow the light of God to penetrate our lives and expose them. We are to confess them and turn from them. Our lives are to be marked by light rather than darkness. Our behavior is to reflect our beliefs and our fellowship with God and His Son. The apostle Paul would remind us, “Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV). “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5 ESV). “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12 ESV).  “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true) and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10 ESV).