Tuesday, May 11, 2010

One Command, Two Commands

In many Christian circles the relationship between faith and works seems to be an interesting topic to fight over. Some say we are saved by faith and if you add anything after that sentence you are on your way to the bad place. Others say, “Faith, schmaith. What you believe doesn’t really matter, what matters is that you are doing something for the kingdom. The first readers of John’s letter were living in a situation where this topic was of first importance. But there is a third way to view these things.

And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. (1 John 3:23)
As you read through John’s first letter, you see that John is responding to reports of a number of incidents primarily related to a group of people who claim to be leaders, have special knowledge of Spiritual things, whose teaching is leading to the persecution and even death of the saints (3:12-13), and who do not seem to be very interested in living God honoring lives (1:1-3; 1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 6, 9, 11, 15-17, 18-20, 22-23; 3:3). John’s answers also lead the modern reader to believe that these are Jews who are trying to lead the original readers back to Judaism .

Doctrine—The Name of his Son Jesus Christ (v. 23)
John’s answer to the saints, summed up in our text, and as the way to respond to these false teachers is twofold: First they are to cling to Jesus. John’s litany of reasons the folks ought to listen to him is a list of relational and organic things, not distant and wooden things (1:1-4). He knew Jesus face to face. He heard him, saw him, studied him, touched him and fellowshipped with him. He knew him intimately. He knew how he walked, how he talked, what he thought, what he would say in various situations, why he came, why he left, how he prayed and most of all—how he loved. And this knowledge, this relationship, is what John is passing along to his readers so that their joy might be complete (1:4).

But there is more than that going on. Faith means believing certain things are true. Do you believe that Jesus is the light of the world? Do you believe that he lived and that he died for sinners on a cross? Do you believe that he rose again from the dead and that he now has complete and total victory over death? Do you believe there is power involved here? Do you believe that Jesus has all power of the universe at his disposal? Do you believe that he died for you? Do you believe that he rose from the dead for you? Do you believe that he wants to have a personal relationship with you by his Holy Spirit? Do you believe that he knows you personally? That he knows your name? Do you know his name? Do you ever talk to him? For many of us these last few questions seem superfluous. We think we only need to know the facts of the Gospel in order to avoid spending eternity in Hell. But John believed that it wasn’t the facts that were important it was the relationship with the living God that is important. No relationship, no faith. No faith, no salvation.

When you know someone and you spend time with them, you become like them. And so John says things like: by this we know we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments (2:3), the one who claims to know God must walk as Jesus walked (2:6), and the one who claims to know God has been born of God and thus does not continue to sin, because he purifies himself as he is pure (3:3, 6, 9, etc.). The life lived in the presence of God, with the Son, in the Holy Spirit is a changed life, a different life, a Christian life. John says that if we are the same as the world around us, if we are indistinguishable from the world around us, if we love what they love, want what they want, think the way they think about what is important in life, we are liars and we make God a liar too (1:10; 2:4; 5:12).

Love One Another (v. 23):
But our text says there is more to the Christian life than knowing and loving Christ. There is also loving the brothers. Notice that our text says this is his commandment…One command. But then, when he explains that one command, it seems to be two commands: believe in the Name and love one another (3:23). How does this work? John says, “whoever loves God must also love his brother (4:21). He goes on to say that we know that we are loving the brothers when we love God and obey his commandments (5:2). This is because if we know that God has loved us, we will also love God and those whom God has loved (5:1). Love of God and love of our brothers and sisters in the Lord is all tied up together so that we can’t do one without the other and if we don’t do one we aren’t doing the other either.

The Victory:
John goes on to say that living this kind of life is how we overcome the world. It is also how our faith overcomes the world (5:4). It is also how the original readers were going to overcome the false teachers they had in their midst. Loving one another is how the world knows we belong to Christ and how we convince the world that God is real and that our faith is real. Christians loving one another is the greatest proof of God’s existence there is. We could not live in love if he did not exist because he empowers us to live this way. He makes obeying his commands a sweet delight, rather than a burden (5:3).

How is it going? Are you making God a liar by how you live? Do you spend time with the Lord, asking him to give you the delights of his heart so that you can ask for the delights of your heart (Ps. 27:4)? John said that this kind of walk with God and love for one another will result in answered prayers (5:14-15). How are your prayers being answered these day? Earlier I mentioned that when the world looks at us and sees the love we have for one another, they will know that God exists and that the Gospel of Jesus is true. What do the non-Christians you work with think about God and his son Jesus Christ. If the members of your family were unbelievers, what would they think? Do you love your children like Christ loves them? Do you love your wife like Christ loves the church? Jesus is making his bride more and more beautiful as time goes on, how is your wife doing? Are you treating her tenderly as the sweet lover in the Song of Songs treats his lover? Does she look forward to your coming like the beloved because you make everything around her beautiful and thus her as well? Do you respect your husband the way the church is supposed to respect Jesus? Does he spend the day at work longing to “get out of here” so he can get home to you and the kids? Are you more loving at work and at the church than you are at home? These things should not be. Here is God’s commandment, believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and love one another.

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