Love One Another, Volume 2
Read John 13:34-35 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Then open in prayer
If you heard my sermon last month, you might be thinking that those verses sound familiar. Yes, I spoke on John chapter 13 a month ago. I’m not speaking on the same chapter this time, but I am speaking on the same topic. Think of this as something along the line of picking up where I left off.
If you weren’t here last time, or if you don’t remember at all what I spoke about, here’s a quick summary. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering what I ate for supper two days ago, and this is a sermon from four weeks ago, I had to go and review my notes in detail, and I spoke the sermon. Last time we looked at the topic of love, and specifically of how Christ instructed His disciples to love one another, and to do so according to how He had loved them. In particular we looked at how Christ had actually loved His followers, and what that means for us. The world at large does not have a very good understanding of what love is, and if we don’t understand love either, then how are we to show it or express it one to another?
We saw that Christ’s love is enduring and not earned. It is not constrained by the worthiness of the recipient, or the unworthiness thereof. It is self-sacrificing and humble, and is shown just as much through the mundane affairs of day-to-day life as with the single grand gesture. It is merciful and patient, and very much concerned with service. We saw that Christ’s love does not have the expectation of return, it is not dependant on reciprocity. And we closed with the fact that His love is active. It is rooted in deed, not simply in word.
That is where I would like to pick up this morning. Please turn to the book of 1 John, chapter 4. We’ll just read a few verses there, starting at verse 7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we 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 ought also to love one another.
We have a restatement here of the instruction that we are to love one another. That’s something that we’ve heard already, and we are going to hear again. It’s an instruction that is repeated many, many times in scripture, in many different places. Christ taught this, as we saw earlier. John teaches this, Peter teaches this, Paul teaches this.
Why is this repeated so often throughout the Bible? I’m going to make a crazy suggestion here, that maybe, just maybe, God would actually like for us to love one another. The reason that He tells us so often is probably because He would really like us to do this. This is important. In fact, I would say this goes beyond important. This is not simply a good idea, this is necessary. Look at what it says in the verses we just read, verses 7 and 8 in particular. Everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that does not love, does not know God, for God is love.
Let that sink in for a moment. If you do not love, then you do not know God. That is a very strong statement. And I think it’s something we need to take seriously.
After all, as it says immediately thereafter, God is love. God is a lot of things, he has a lot of attributes, a lot of defining qualities, and love is definitely one of them. God has shown His love toward us in countless ways. How are we supposed to hope to look as if we are being remade in the image of His Son, even if only slightly, only the first few steps of being remade, if we do not love as He loves?
Not that I expect any of us to be able to love in a truly self-sacrificing, putting-others-first sort of way as we see in the example that Christ provided, at least not on an ongoing and consistent and unfailing basis. The verse does not say we have to be perfect, but that we are to love. This is an identifying mark for the believer, an indicator that you can point to and have a clear idea of where a person stands, spiritually speaking. In verse 7 we are told that every one that loves, and to be clear the word here is Agape, meaning a selfless love, rather than a familial or a romantic love. The verse says that everyone who loves in this way is born of God, and knows God. This manner of love is an evidence of following God. The word in verse 7 for born, that is the word Greek Gennao (ghen-nah’-o) which is the same word used in John 3 when Christ said “Ye must be born again.” The word means to give birth to, or to father someone, from the same root as we get the word Genesis, or generate.
If we love with God’s love, it shows that we have been reborn, that we are in the process of being remade in God’s image. If we don’t love, then it calls into question our status as a follower of Christ. As Christ said Himself in Matthew chapter 7, by their fruits ye shall know them. How do I know that the tree in my front lawn is an oak tree? I know this because it drops hundreds of acorns on the yard this time of year. That’s a pretty good sign that it’s not a maple. You and I are not trees, but we likewise bear fruit. We are told in Galatians chapter 5 about the fruit of the spirit. I won’t have you turn there, the list is probably familiar anyway, but the list is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. That is the fruit we are to bear. Notice what the very first item is – love. What we do, how we live, how we behave, those are all indicators of what we are. What we do shows what we are. Or at least it should.
Now, I’m not saying this to cause anyone to doubt their salvation, that is not my point this morning. None of us here is perfect, none of us here is capable of showing love to the extent that Christ did. If we were capable of that, we probably wouldn’t be here this morning. If we were capable of actually being like Christ, if we could do that in our own strength, then we wouldn’t need Christ all that much, would we? If we were able to love like that, then we might be able to entertain the notion of earning our salvation. But we aren’t able to love like that, are we? We fall desperately short of God’s standard, we are in dire need of His love, of His mercy, and of His grace. We can’t love like He did, not on our own.
This brings us to another reason why we are told repeatedly to love one another. It’s not just to drive home the importance, the necessity of it. We are given this instruction repeatedly because it is hard. Love one another. It’s not easy. It’s easy to say, just three words, love one another. Easy to say, not so easy to do. It requires effort, it requires work. It does not come naturally to us.
Last time I spoke, we talked about how the disciples were not ready to jump up and wash one another’s feet. They had been following Christ, had been living alongside Him, for three years at that point, and they didn’t readily offer to serve in that way. It was an unpleasant task, washing all those dirty feet, and none of them were willing to step up and do it. If you go back and look at John chapter 13, you’ll notice how Christ waited until after the meal was done before He washed their feet. He gave them all plenty of opportunity to serve. Sometimes we don’t have a very large window of opportunity. I recall last Sunday morning at the Breaking of Bread, I stood up to pray at one point, I think it was at the closing of the meeting, but someone else, I believe it was Gary, had stood up a moment sooner. And so I didn’t get to pray at that time. That was a narrow window of opportunity. The disciples had plenty of time to act on it, to actually serve one another, to love one another through this act. But none of them were willing to step up and do it. They weren’t willing to get their hands dirty.
Let’s turn back to 1 John chapter 3 to read a few more verses to get an idea of what this actually entails. Starting at verse 10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. 11 For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. 13 Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. 14 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. 15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. 16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.
Yes, we have here another restatement of the commandment to love one another, and a further explanation of why this is so important, and how it is an identifying mark of a child of God. Cain, obviously, did not love his brother Abel. He might have said that he loved him, and they no doubt had played together as boys and behaved as brothers do, but when the time came to actually obey God, he clearly did not love his brother. He chose to ignore and disobey what God had instructed, and he resented that he was not allowed to just do as he pleased. His brother’s sacrifice was accepted, his was rejected, and so in resentment he killed his own brother. That is very obviously not love, it is a far cry from it. That should really go without saying, I hope that you don’t need to be told from the pulpit on Sunday morning that killing your brother is not a good way to express love. It’s probably a safe bet that no one here has actually committed murder, so why is this applicable? It’s because the passage isn’t really about Cain and Abel and murder, is it? Cain’s actions were wrong, yes, but so was his heart. He hated his brother, because Abel’s deeds were good, and his own were evil. Probably none of us are going to go out and kill anyone, but we may still hate them. We may resent them for what they have, who they are, what they have achieved, for any number of different reasons. I trust that we will never act in violence as Cain did, but our hearts may not be all that different.
But that isn’t the hard part, not really. Here is where it gets challenging, here is where it gets really difficult. It’s one thing, it’s a good thing not to commit murder. That’s something we can all do. It takes more effort to not hate each other, to not be resentful toward others, but I’m optimistic that is also something that can be achieved, in particular with the Lord’s help. What comes next is more closely related to our topic today. Look again at verses 16 and 17 16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
It’s one thing to not hate, whether it be active or passive hate we are talking about. It’s quite another to actually step up and love one another through our actions. When someone else is in need, we need to do something about it.
I’ve heard it said that the opposite of love isn’t hate, but rather, the opposite of love is apathy. Not entirely sure that I agree completely with that, as clearly hate is in opposition to love, but so also is apathy. When we see someone who needs our help, and we are in a position to provide that help, but we don’t, that seems to me is very much the opposite of love.
Obviously, we can’t help everyone with everything. That’s simply not going to be possible. Even when Christ was here on Earth, and was actively healing the sick, we don’t read of many occasions when He went out and healed every unhealthy person in a given area. The lame man from John chapter 5, who was healed by Christ while waiting by the pool of Bethesda, there were many others there suffering from various ailments who would have welcomed healing. Christ only healed one man on that day, at least that is all we are told of that took place at that time. We are not called to help everyone with everything.
We are called to love. We are called, it says in verse 16, to lay down our lives. That doesn’t mean we are expected to die physically, but rather, we are to let go of what is important to us. We are to lay that down. We need to set aside what we want, and instead of holding unto to what we desire, we are to care one for another, to love one another.
Like I said, this is the hard part. No one wants to give up what they want. That runs completely contrary to the very nature of desire. We want what we want, even when what we want is not good for us. Even when it is not good for the people around us, in fact, I would suggest that quite often what we want is not particularly of benefit for anyone. I might want to eat lots of unhealthy food, but that’s certainly not good for me or my blood sugar. If I go ahead and do that, I’ll end up suffering for it. If I get an upset stomach and feel miserable and can’t hardly get out of bed the next day, that’s not very considerate of my family or my coworkers, who will all have to pick up the slack while I’m out of commission. Setting that desire aside might feel like I’m laying down something I really want, but it is better for all concerned.
That’s barely even scratching the surface of how we are to love one another. Instead of trying to take care of myself and what I want, what can I do for those around me? After work, perhaps I’m a bit tired and would like to just lay down for a while after supper. There have been times when that has happened, to be sure, and I’m not saying that it’s wrong. But if instead of taking a nap, if I were instead to perhaps sit with the children and read stories to them, that’s meeting a need they have, a need for a responsible and involved father. I don’t want to read another Berenstain Bears book, but the children so enjoy those, and so maybe I lay down what I want, and read that instead.
That’s only within my own family, and already we’re talking about doing things we’d prefer not to do, things are not even all that challenging, but sometimes we find hard enough to do. Christ calls us to do so much more. In verse 17, there is the striking example of the person who has this world’s good, they are well-off, they are what we might call comfortable, and they see someone in a state of need, and they do nothing. They refrain from helping, they restrain and repress any feeling of compassion. Perhaps they don’t even feel compassion at all, they have become so hardened and cold to the pain around them.
This isn’t limited to material things, either, although that is certainly part of it. We all have more material things than some people, and less than others. It’s easy to look at people with more than we have, and think that we are poor and have little. And maybe we do have little, maybe we have to get by eating Mr. Noodles and day old bread. Even if we are not in a place where we can hand out money or food to those who might need it, that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. We might not be able to help someone materially, but maybe they need help with something else. Maybe someone needs help with yardwork, or childcare, or other tasks. Maybe someone just needs to be visited because they are lonely and unable to get out. We can give of our time even if we don’t have money. In fact, we can and should give of our time, regardless of how much money we might have. If you have the money, it’s easy to throw money at someone and think you have helped them, that you have shown them love. See someone panhandling for loose change, you give them a loonie and go about your day. That’s not really showing love, though, is it? It’s not even acknowledging the other person as a human being, just as a problem to throw money at.
It’s not just our actions that indicate love, although our actions should be clear. But we can put on a good front, and inside we feel no love whatsoever. If we look at 1 Corinthians 13, it illustrates this quite clearly. Don’t feel the need to turn there, the verses are probably very familiar, reading from verse 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
We can do all manner of things to help the people around us, but if we don’t love them, it’s not doing us much good. We can put on a very impressive show, we can say the right things, we can tick all the right boxes, but if we do this without love, if we simply act out of a sense of obligation, or of pride, thinking that we will look good from what we do, or out of guilt, then we are not really obeying what Christ instructed those who would follow Him. The people we might help will probably appreciate the help just as much, but as it says in verse 3, it profits us nothing.
I don’t expect us to solve all the world’s problems with our actions. I don’t really expect us to solve hardly any of the world’s problems, in fact. But if we can show love to our fellow man, to treat the people around us even a little bit as Christ treated his disciples, then it’s at least a step in the right direction.
Where we really need to step up, though, is in how we show love to each other, to those who also profess the name of Christ. This is where we might find it the most difficult, and the most needful. This is both within our own meeting, and with other believers we have opportunity to associate with. It’s entirely too easy to come together on Sunday morning and maybe Tuesday night for Bible study, and shake a few hands, ask a few people how they are doing, and then go about with the rest of your week, and not give them another thought. I know I’m guilty of this, we’re probably all guilty of this.
When we extend this to other believers from other local churches, it’s easy to say how they are different from us, how they don’t believe exactly the same things we do, or they don’t practice their faith in exactly the same way we do. Using such so-called reasons, it’s easy for us to keep our distance, to not really associate with them all that much. If we assume that we are going to disagree with them on things, it’s easier to simply avoid the issue and not get too close. But it’s going to be really difficult to show love to people we don’t even spend time with, isn’t it?
Christ told His disciples to love one another. They may not have liked each other all that much. You take a group of people, some with notable tempers, some with strong personalities, one who was a tax collector, because everyone gets along great with the tax man, yeah, there were disagreements and arguments and problems between them. Christ didn’t tell them to agree on everything, He didn’t even tell them to get along and like one another. No, the commandment was to love one another.
I’m not saying we should all live in a compound together like some sort of cult, but we should make a sincere effort to look after one another, to build each other up instead of tearing each other down, or for that matter, of simply standing by and watching when another believer might stumble. Not only is it that we all need help from time to time, but it is for our own good, our own edification and strengthening to help those who might need it. And it is always for our benefit to obey what God has commanded us.
This is, after all, something that we have been instructed on repeatedly in scripture, as mentioned previously. The command is repeated in scripture so frequently because it is needful, and because it is difficult. There is one more reason I would suggest that the commandment to love one another comes up so often. It is because it is ongoing.
Scripture tells us so often to love one another, because we need to be told. We need to be told a lot. Even when we want to follow Christ, when we want to be more like Him, when we want to love one another, we tend not to.
As I parent, I know about telling my children to do things, to do necessary and basic things, and telling them often. I don’t know how many times that Laura and I have to remind them about such tasks as brushing their teeth or washing their hands after they use the washroom. These are basic tasks, but needful ones. We have to tell them children many, many times, and even when you think it should be automatic by now, that they all should know that before bedtime you brush your teeth, sometimes they just don’t. They know they should. Even Levi knows that he is supposed to brush his teeth, and he’s not even two years old yet. But just because you know something doesn’t mean you are going to do it. The instruction is repeated so we will remember.
We are instructed to love one another. This is not a one-time thing, not something you do and be done with. We are to love one another every day. That is what is necessary, and that is what is challenging, not just to start, but to continue. Because it’s not something that we get to finish, not in this life. Loving one another is not like a book that you read, and then you put down because you’re done with it. No, we are to love another continually.
As we read at the start from John 13, by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another. As much as it is for our benefit, and for the benefit of those we love, it is also to be an example to the world around. The world wants to dismiss us as insignificant, as uninformed, as irrelevant. If we radiate the love of God, if we care for one another, if we help each other when we need a hand, if we lift each other up when we fall, it is not so easy to dismiss us. It is not so easy to discount the gospel of Christ when those who profess His name actually obey His commandments. In doing so, we show His love both to one another, and to a world that doesn’t understand love, and doesn’t understand Christ, but is so desperately in need of both.