Love One Another

 

Week of August 7, 2011

 

Bible Verses:John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:10-12,16-18; 4:7-13,19.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson is about the biblical command to love one another.

 

Christ Commanded Love: John 13:34-35.

 

[34]A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. [35]By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."[ESV]

 

Through the centuries people have displayed many different symbols to show that they are Christians. At the close of his ministry, Jesus looks forward to His death on the cross, the open tomb and the ascension. Knowing that He is about to leave, Jesus prepares His disciples for what is to come. It is here that He makes clear what will be the distinguishing mark of the Christian. Notice that what He says here is not a description of a fact. It is a command which includes a condition: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. The point is that it is possible to be a Christian without showing the mark, but if we expect non-Christians to know that we are Christians, we must show the mark. The command in these verses is to love our fellow Christians. But, of course, we must strike a balance and not forget the other side of Jesusí teaching: we are also to love our neighbor, to love all people. All people bear the image of God. They have value, not because they are redeemed, but because they are Godís creation in Godís image. All people are our neighbors, and we are to love them as ourselves. We are to do this on the basis of creation, even if they are not redeemed, for all people have value because they are made in the image of God. Therefore they are to be loved even at great cost. So, when Jesus gives the special command to love our Christian brothers, it does not negate the other command. The two are not antithetical. We are not to choose between loving all people as ourselves and loving the Christian in a special way. The two commands reinforce each other. If Jesus has commanded so strongly that we love all people as our neighbors, then how important it is especially to love our fellow Christians. If we are told to love all people as our neighbors Ė as ourselves Ė then surely, when it comes to those with whom we have the special bonds as fellow Christians Ė having one Father through one Jesus Christ and being indwelt by one Spirit Ė we can understand how overwhelmingly important it is that all people be able to see an observable love for those with whom we have these special ties. Paul makes the double obligation clear in Galatians 6:10: So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. This dual goal should be our Christian mentality, the set of our minds. It should be the attitude that governs our outward observable actions. If we look again at the command in John 13:34, we will notice some important things. First of all, this is a command to have a special love to all true Christians. From the scriptural viewpoint, not all who call themselves Christians are Christians. The meaning of the word Christian has been reduced today to practically nothing. Surely, there is no word that has been so devalued unless it is the word of God itself. Jesus, however, is talking about loving all true Christians. And this is a command that has two cutting edges, for it means that we must both distinguish true Christians from all pretenders and be sure that we leave no true Christians outside of our consideration. We must include everyone who stands in the historic-biblical faith whether or not they are a member of our own group. The second thing to notice in verse 34 is the quality of the love that is to be our standard. We are to love all Christians just as I have loved you. Now think of both the quality and the quantity of Jesusí love toward us. Of course, He is infinite and we are finite; He is God, we are humans. Since He is infinite, our love can never be like His, it can never be an infinite love. Nevertheless, the love He exhibited then and exhibits now is to be our standard. We dare have no lesser standard. We are to love all true Christians as Christ has loved us. The church is to be a loving church in a dying culture. How, then, is the dying culture going to consider us? Jesus says in verse 35: By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present dying culture, Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon His authority He gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians. That is pretty frightening. In other words, if people come up to us and cast in our face the judgment that we are not Christians because we have not shown love toward other Christians, we must understand that they are only exercising a prerogative which Jesus gave them. And we must not get angry. If people say, ďYou donít love other Christians,Ē we must go home, get down on our knees and ask God whether or not they are right. And if they are, then they have a right to have said what they said. We must be very careful at this point, however. We may be true Christians, really born-again Christians, and yet fail in our love toward other Christians. As a matter of fact, to be completely realistic, there will be times when we will fail in our love toward each other as Christians. In a fallen world, where there is no such thing as perfection until Jesus comes, we know that will be the case. And, of course, when we fail, we must ask Godís forgiveness. But, Jesus is not here saying that our failure to love all Christians proves that we are not Christians. What Jesus is saying, however, is that, if I do not have the love I should have toward all other Christians, the world has the right to make the judgment that I am not a Christian. This distinction is imperative. If we fail in our love toward all Christians, we must not tear our heart out as though it were proof that we are lost. No one except Christ Himself has ever lived and not failed. If success in love toward our brothers in Christ were to be the standard of whether or not a man is a Christian, then there would be no Christians, because all people have failed. No, verse 35 is not talking about the status of our salvation, but rather the effectiveness of our witness to a dying world.

 

Actions Demonstrate Love: 1 John 3:10-12,16-18.

 

[10]By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. [11]For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. [12]We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. [16]By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. [17]But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? [18]Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.[ESV]

 

[10-12]There is a clear connection between what is foreshadowed in 3:10 and developed in 3:11-18, namely that genuine love for fellow believers is another mark of those who belong to the truth. The message John's readers heard from the beginning included the command of the Lord Jesus that those who believe in Him should love one another. This is the first of six references in the Letters of John to Jesus' command that His disciples should love one another [3:23; 4:7,11,12; 2 John 5]. They are probably dependent on the account of the Last Supper discourses found in the Fourth Gospel [John 13:34; 15:12,17]. What he means by loving one another is spelled out negatively in the next verse and positively in verses 16-18. John urges his readers not to allow themselves to fall into that category of persons who do not love fellow believers by using a negative example. He refers to the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:1-25. Rather than loving his brother, Cain murdered him because Cain belonged to the evil one and his own deeds were evil.

 

[16-18]John has spoken of love as the mark of those who have passed from death to life in verse 14. Now he explains what the nature of that love is, and then stresses the obligation resting on believers to practice it. The readers are people who know what love is because they know that Jesus Christ laid down His life for them. The sort of love exemplified in Christ's death is love which expends itself in the interests of others. The corollary to Christ laying His life down for us is that we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. This same connection is made in the Last Supper discourses in John 15:12-14. As Christ loved us and laid down His life for us, so we must do for one another. John applies this in a very down-to-earth fashion in verses 17-18. Applying the exhortation to the lives of his readers, John does not speak of the extreme sort of self-giving involved in actually laying down their lives for fellow believers, but of something far more down to earth. In the light of Christ's self-giving love for them, John says, they should not close their hearts toward fellow believers in material need. In fact, they cannot close their hearts to them and still rightly claim that the love of God remains in them. In Johannine terms the love which comes from God both creates believers' love for fellow believers [4:19] and expresses itself in love for them [4:20]. Rather than to be mean-spirited, John urges his readers to be generous and practical in their love. They must not just talk about love, but must practice it, and in this context that means using their own resources to relieve the needs of others. To love in truth here means to love truly, as distinct from loving in word only. It is synonymous with loving in action in this context. An illustration of what it can mean to love in word or talk but not in deed and in truth may be found in James 2:15-16.

 

God Enables Love: 1 John 4:7-13,19.

 

[7]Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. [8]Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

[9]In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. [10]In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [11]Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. [12]No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. [13]By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. [19]We love because he first loved us.[ESV]

 

[7-8]This is the third time that John takes up and applies the supreme test of love [2:7-1; 3:11-18]. Each time the test is more searching. In this third treatment John is concerned to relate the love which should be in us not to the true light which is already shining, nor to the eternal life of which it is the evidence but to Godís very nature of love and with His loving activity in Christ and in us. The refrain of this paragraph is the reflexive love one another. It occurs three times: as an exhortation [7], as a statement of duty [11], and as a hypothesis [12]. What John is at pains to demonstrate is the ground of this imperative obligation. Why is reciprocal love the plain duty of Christians? John now elaborates what he had already begun to say in 1 John 3:16 that God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ as self-sacrificial love. It is because God is love in Himself [8,16], has loved us in Christ [10,11], and continues to love in and through us [12,13], that we must love each other. The first reason why Christians should love each other is now stated twice, first, for love is from God and secondly, because God is love. Because God is the source and origin of love and all true love derives from Him, it stands to reason that whoever loves, that is, loves either God or man with that selfless devotion which alone is true love according to Johnís teaching, has been born of God and knows God. But not only is God the source of all true love; God is love in His inmost being. There are three other statements in the New Testament concerning what God is in substance and nature: He is Spirit [John 4:24], light [1 John 1:5] and a consuming fire [Heb. 12:29]. The truth that God is love is the most comprehensive and sublime of all biblical affirmations about Godís being, and is repeated twice [8,16]. Nevertheless, it is important to hold these assertions about God together. It is true that the words God is love mean not that loving is only one of Godís many activities but rather that His activity is loving activity and that, therefore, if He judges, He judges in love. Yet, if His judging is in love, His loving is also in justice. He who is love is light and fire as well. Far from condoning sin, His love has found a way to expose it (because He is light) and to consume it (because He is fire) without destroying the sinner, but rather saving him. From the truth that God is love John draws a further deduction, not now positive and inclusive like that of verse 7, but negative and exclusive: anyone who does not love does not know God. The argument is plain and compelling. For the loveless Christian to profess to know God and to have been born of God is like claiming to be intimate with a foreigner whose language we cannot speak, or to have been born of parents whom we do not in any way resemble. It is to fail to manifest the nature of Him whom we claim as our Father and our Friend. Love is as much a sign of new birth as is righteousness.

 

[9-10]While the origin of love is in the being of God, the manifestation of love is in the coming of Christ. There have been and are many manifestations of the love of God. Among us, however, Godís love, which had already been displayed in His choice, redemption and protection of Israel, has been preeminently made known in the gift of His Son. This is stated with emphasis twice in this paragraph. The sending of Godís Son was both the revelation of His love and, indeed, the very essence of love itself. It is not our love that is primary, but Godís free, uncaused and spontaneous love, and all our love is but a reflection of His and a response to it. The coming of Christ is, therefore, a concrete, historical revelation of Godís love, for love is self-sacrifice, the seeking of anotherís positive good at oneís own cost, and a greater self-giving than Godís gift of His Son there have never been, nor could be. The way in which John sees this emerges from the similar pattern in which the three statements of verses 9, 10 and 14 are made. (1) Each says that God sent His Son, called now the Son [14], His Son [10] and His only Son [9]. Only (or begotten) indicates Jesusí uniqueness; He is the Son in an absolute sense. No greater gift of God is conceivable because no greater gift was possible. This was Godís indescribable gift [2 Cor. 9:15]. (2) It is further implied that the Father sent His Son to die for us. Not the incarnation but the atonement is the preeminent manifestation of love. To be the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God bore away the sin of the world [John 1:29]. That we might live through him, He died [John 3:14-15; 9:49-52, 12:24]. In order to be the propitiation for our sins, He shed His blood [1:7; 2:2]. (3) The greatness of Godís love, manifest in the nature of His gift and its purpose, is seen also in its beneficiaries, for God gave His Son to die for us undeserving sinners. The degraded condition to which our sins had brought us is clearly implied. If we need a Savior, it is because we are sinners, dead in our sins and under the holy wrath and judgment of God. He loved us and sent His Son to rescue us, not because we are in any sense lovable, but because He is love. So the greatness of His love is seen in the costliness of His self-sacrifice for the wholly undeserving.

 

[11-13,19]The deduction which John draws from the historical manifestation of Godís love in Christ is different. The gift of Godís Son not only assures us of Godís love for us, but lays upon us an obligation. No one who has been to the cross and seen Godís immeasurable and unmerited love displayed there can go back to a life of selfishness. Indeed, the implications seems to be that if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. [12]The authorís third argument to enforce the duty of reciprocal love takes his readers a stage further. We are not to think of love only as constituting Godís eternal being and as historically manifested in the sending of His Son into the world. God who is love still loves, and today His love is seen in our love. So Johnís third argument is based on Godís present and continuous activity of love. God is Spirit and in Himself invisible [1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16]. Even if He were visible, no man could see Him and live [Ex. 33:20]. The Old Testament Theophanies were revelations of God in human disguise; they were not visions of God as He is in Himself. The vision of God lies still in the future when Christ appears [3:2]. How then can God be known? The unseen God, who was once revealed in His Son, is now revealed in His people if and when they love one another. Godís love is seen in their love because their love is His love imparted to them by His Spirit. The words do not mean that when we begin to love, God comes to dwell in us, but the reverse. Our love for one another is evidence of Godís indwelling presence. John goes further still. Reciprocal Christian love means not only that God dwells in us but also that love is perfected in us. It would be hard to exaggerate the greatness of this conception. Godís love which originates in Himself [7,8] and was manifested in His Son [9,10] is perfected in His people [12]. Godís love for us is perfected only when it is reproduced in us in the Christian fellowship. It is these three truths about the love of God which John uses as inducements to brotherly love. We are to love each other, first because God is love [8,9], secondly because God loved us [10,11], and thirdly because, if we do love one another, God dwells in us and His love is perfected in us [12]. The ability to believe and the ability to love are alike attributable to the Holy Spirit. It is by the Spirit that we come to confess the deity of Jesus and by the same Spirit that we are enabled to love. [19]Our great characteristic if we are Christians is not that we fear, but that we love. Godís love was primary; all true love is a response to His initiative. John repeats the truth he has asserted in verse 10. Fear dwells within us by nature and needs to be cast out. Agape, Godlike love, on the other hand, does not reside in our fallen nature. Its presence within us is due entirely to His prior love for us and in us: we love because he first loved us.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† Why does Jesus command us to love other believers? What standard are we to use in deciding how we are to show love to other believers? What impact will our obedience to Jesusí command in verse 34 have on our witness to the world?

 

2.†††††††† What practical ways does John give us in 1 John 3:16-18 concerning how we are to lay down our lives for the brothers? Ask God to show you this week how you can lay down your life in very practical ways in order to show Christís love for other believers. In doing this, think and pray about areas of your life that hinder you from showing love to others: impatience, saying critical and unloving words, pride, etc.

 

3.†††††††† The command to love other believers as Christ loved us is an overwhelming task. In 1 John 4:7-13,19 how does John tell us that we are to obey this command? (Focus on the truth that this love comes from God, nor from our own strength, and that God has given us His Spirit.)

 

References:

John, Robert Mounce, EBC, Zondervan.

John, Volume 4, James Montgomery Boice, Baker.

The Letters of John, Colin Kruse, Pillar, Eerdmans.

The Epistles of John, John Stott, Eerdmans.

The Church at the End of the 20th Century, Francis Schaeffer, pages 133-153, Inter Varsity.