Introduction - I want to know what love is.
Over the years, certain words in the English language have been used so often
and in so many different ways that their meaning changes constantly.
As decades and centuries pass,
the cultural context of these words quite often moves its meaning in a radically different direction.
Let me give you some examples.
Some of you might remember going to the pictures when you were young,
and you may remember the film titled “The Gay Bachelor”.
When the film was made, the word “gay” meant happy and carefree.
But we all know what it means now.
Or let’s take modern slang.
I’m a teacher of course
I was with a group of school kids the other day
and they referred to something as being “sick”.
Now we might think that they were criticizing something,
but of course they were saying that something was very good.
If I say that my car is sick, you might interpret it to mean that it needs a service.
But to some teenagers, I’m saying that my car is wonderful.
Sometimes people take words a little bit too literally.
There is a story about an Australian woman in London who was invited to a party.
On the invitation were the words “bring a plate”.
So this unsophisticated Aussie assumed that the person was somehow lacking in crockery
and turned up with an empty plate.
The same person had been a teacher,
and years beforehand she was being visited by a school inspector.
After discussing all the important issues, the inspector left and said “see you later”.
This poor person waited around for hours for him to come back!
The word “love” is one of the most misunderstood words in our language.
Everyone has an idea of what love means,
and there is naturally some common thread running through,
but the fact is that in our world today the word “love” has been
misused, misapplied and misunderstood.
One of the best ways to examine how the word “love” is understood
is simply by reading the lyrics of popular songs.
In the mid 60s, The Beatles said
“Love, love me do. You know I love you. I’ll always be true. So please, please, please, love me do”.
What we have here is love being defined as teenage attraction.
Later on, The Beatles stated that “All you need is love”
- which in the context of the time meant you wore psychedelic gear,
tried to be very nice to one another
and protested against the Vietnam war.
Because the word love can mean so many different things,
it can be used as some sort of weapon.
“That’s not very loving” is a phrase that causes guilt in the hearer,
but what does the speaker actually mean?
Here in 1 John, the Apostle is instructing us about how Christians should be loving one another.
But we need to remember that our understanding of love at this point has to be determined by what John says,
and by what the rest of the bible says.
So we need to question our own assumptions,
and we need to let them be challenged by what God says here in his word.
In the ancient Greek language that the Bible was written in,
the word “love” is used to translate three different Greek words,
some of which you may have heard.
The first is the word “eros”, which we get the word “erotic” from.
However, eros is not so much talking about sexual love as it is talking about love for something that is worthy of being loved.
So eros love is loving something that deserves love.
Another word for love is the word “philio”, which is the love we have for family or friends.
“Philadelphia” literally means in ancient Greek “The city of brotherly love”.
Of course, the Greek word most used for love in the Bible is called “agape”,
and is the opposite of eros love
- agape love is love for someone or something that does not deserve to be loved.
God’s love for us is agape love
- God loves us and cares for us, but not because of anything good or worthy in us.
The idea is that love stems from the lover
rather than the person or object being loved.
When John talks about love here in the passage we’re looking at, he uses the word agape.
2.7-8 Old and new love.
Let’s move onto the text now.
The first point I want to make is titled “old and new love”
and looks at verses 7 and 8.
Let me read them to you.
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
The first thing John says is “dear friends”.
We have to remember in our examination of love in this passage that
John is not writing some stale theological discussion paper,
he is writing because he cares about the readers.
“Dear friends” is saying that they are not only friends of John,
but that he holds them close to his heart.
So as we examine what love is,
we need to remember that John is someone who loves.
The second thing we see here is that John is speaking about something which he calls “an old command”.
What is this old command?
Why is it so important that John call it old?
We need to remember that John was writing to a church that was being influenced by false teachers.
These false teachers were called “gnostics”
- they had received special spiritual knowledge.
In a sense, what they were gaining was “new knowledge”,
and they were going around speaking about this new knowledge.
John, however, is not speaking about any new spiritual insights or teaching.
John is saying that what he is writing is nothing new.
John is here referring to the gospel that the church had heard.
In the section before this one, you may remember that John was speaking about Jesus being a sin sacrifice.
That when Jesus died on the cross, he took our sins upon himself.
So when John says “I am not writing to you a new command but an old one”,
he is referring to the gospel that was preached to them when they became Christians.
This message does not change.
The meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection does not change over time.
Its meaning is eternal and universal.
But John then does something a bit strange.
He has started off by saying that he is not writing a new command,
but then goes on to say in verse 8 “yet I am writing you a new command”.
What is he doing here?
Is he contradicting himself?
He’s actually referring back to what Jesus said.
We read earlier from John chapter 13, verse 34, where Jesus says
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Now John is a little mysterious here.
He doesn’t actually say that the new command is to love one another.
It’s fairly obvious that it is because verses 9-11 make that clear.
What he does in verse 8 is to examine where this new command is shown,
and how it relates to darkness and light.
He says that this new command - the command to love one another - is “seen in him and you”.
What he is saying is that love is first seen in Christ, and is then seen in the lives of Christ’s followers.
Anyone who reads through the gospels is aware of the fact that Jesus loves people.
He uses his divine power to heal people of their sicknesses,
and he teaches those who came to him about the kingdom of God.
But his greatest act of love was his death and resurrection.
Jesus freely accepted the mission God gave him,
which was to die as a sin sacrifice.
But this love is also seen in the lives of those who follow Jesus.
There is no doubt here that John is stating that love is a natural result of being Christian.
But we need to be reminded, yet again, that love here needs to be determined
not by our own understanding of the word,
but by God as revealed in the Bible.
John mentions the fact that the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
The picture we get here is of the dawn of a new day.
There is still darkness, but the light is already shining.
Now we know that when dawn comes, there is only one way to go
- the darkness recedes and the light of day shines around.
Remember here that John uses the terms “light” and “dark” as symbols of good and evil.
John is saying here that God’s goodness and salvation in Christ
is lighting up a world trapped in darkness and sin.
And it is in this context that our love for one another is shown.
There are two areas of application I want to make at this point before we go on to examine love in more detail.
The first is that we need to be wary of Christians and Christian organisations that promise something new.
John wrote to a church that was being led astray by false teachers
- teachers who had received new knowledge,
but had lost the old truth in the process.
We need to remember that the old message of Christ’s death and resurrection does not change.
Just because it is the year 2001 does not mean our understanding of God should be different to the church in ages past.
More importantly, we need to remember that the old message of the cross is always going to be our central focus.
I received a brochure the other day advertising a Christian conference that will be held in February 2002.
I won’t mention the conference or the speakers,
but just listen to the topics that some speakers will be talking on:
* “New understandings in the apostolic”
* “Fresh perspectives and strategies for the (great) commission.”
* “New paradigms for 21st century ministry”
* “Taking new ground with Life-giving Leadership that will release the church.”
* “Doing the stuff of the kingdom - fresh understanding and impartation to minister”
Now I’m not saying that this particular conference or its speakers
are in any way the same as the false teachers that John warns us about,
but the fact is that they are focusing upon what is fresh and new
- and that is of concern.
The second point in application is that the new command
- the command to love -
is based upon the old command
- the gospel which saves us.
What I am saying here is that
if we are to understand what it means to love one another,
we need to firstly understand the salvation and forgiveness that is given to us in Christ.
If we are to understand love,
we need to understand Christ.
And if we are to love properly,
we have to experience God’s love through Christ.
What I am saying is that no one can love properly
without having experienced God’s love for themselves.
If a person is not a Christian,
then they cannot love properly,
because they have not experienced the forgiveness and salvation
given to us by the God who loves us.
Of course, if we have experienced forgiveness and salvation,
then we do know what it is like to be loved by God,
and we can then love others.
This is why it is so important to always be reminded of the gospel that saves us
- the gospel acts as the starting point for our beliefs and actions.
If you hadn’t worked it out already,
I come here to preach I always preach the same thing.
It doesn’t matter which part of the Bible we’re looking at,
or whatever topic or theme we need to examine,
I’ll always be preaching the same gospel throughout.
Why? Because it is the starting point of all our beliefs and actions.
2. Love and Hate (2.9-11)
Let’s move onto the next point I’d like to make
- love and hate.
Let me read to you verses 9-11.
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
It may seem strange, but one way of defining what is good is to define what evil is.
In this case, we can work out what love is by understanding what hate is.
One of John’s recurring themes throughout this book so far is the idea of light and darkness,
and we see it again here in these verses.
John makes the point here,
as well as in other verses in chapter 1 and 2
that true followers of Christ do not walk in darkness
- they are not evil.
What John does here is make this point a lot more specific.
- those who are truly in the light -
are those who love their brothers.
John uses the opposite to make a further point
- those who do not love their brothers are not in the light
and are not true Christians.
Verse 9 makes that very clear
- those who claim to be in the light but hate their brother
are not in the light at all but are in darkness.
Verse 10 goes on to point out the opposite truth,
in the way we know John likes doing
- those who love their brothers are living in the light,
and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.
Just look at that phrase “there is nothing in him to make him stumble”.
What is being referred to here is something within the person that causes that same person to stumble.
When the Bible uses the word “stumble” here it is talking about something that causes a person’s faith to be harmed or destroyed.
So what John is saying is that a person who loves his brother has nothing in him that will harm or destroy the faith he has.
It’s not talking about making another person stumble,
it’s talking about something within that individual that causes that individual to have their faith harmed.
This is an important point because
it is saying that our own understanding of God,
our own godliness,
is important when we love other people.
How do we know this?
Remember that John is writing to a church that is being influenced by false teachers
- teachers who denied some of the most important facts of the Christian faith.
When John in verse 10 says that “there is nothing in him to make him stumble”,
he’s talking about these false teachers.
The false teachers have something within them that makes them stumble
- they have denied the truth about Jesus.
Those who have accepted the truth about Jesus
- only these people can love properly.
In our individualistic age, we like to think that we are independent of one another,
but that is not the case.
Our belief in Christ is so important that without it we cannot love others properly.
Verse 11 is just another one of John’s little literary tricks
- it is just another way of saying what verse 9 says.
Those who hate their brothers live in the darkness and walk around in darkness.
He is blind and does not know where he is going.
So the picture we have of those who hate their brothers is one that is very dark.
And of course we know that when John is talking about walking in darkness
or living in darkness,
or being blind,
he is describing someone who does not have the light of God in their lives.
A person who cannot love their brothers is not really a Christian.
So how can we apply all this?
There are 4 points of application I’d like to make.
1. You cannot be a Christian and not love your brother or sister in Christ.
John makes this point very clear.
Remember last time I was preaching here I made the point that John does not see any division between faith and action?
A Christian will always love their brother or sister in Christ.
If you do not love the person next to you,
in front of you or behind you in this church today
then you are disobeying God.
Why do we love each other?
- obviously we are commanded to do so,
but we do so because God first loved us.
Because we are so full of the joy of being loved by God,
we love our brother and sister in Christ.
2. I’ve said this one before - You cannot love properly unless you are a Christian.
God made us to be relationship with him.
Although unbelievers love and experience love, they do not know what love really is unless they become a Christian.
If we are an unbeliever, we do not love God.
And if we do not love God, we can’t love others the way God wants us to.
Love is not some scientific object that can be understood and applied across the spectrum of humanity.
You cannot look at love and say
“how do moslems love?”
or “how do hindus love?”
or “how do atheists love?”.
Love is something created and defined by God,
and something that we can only fully understand when we are in relationship with him.
This is an important point to believe when the world criticises us for holding onto our beliefs.
Many non Christians hate the church because of our stand against homosexuality.
They will argue
“How can you be preaching love when you won’t even accept the deep love between two people of the same sex?”
You see, the world has its own understanding of love,
and when the church is asked to define love the two come into conflict.
We can only come to the conclusion that you cannot experience or understand the love God has
until you have been taken out of the darkness and brought into the light.
3. You cannot love properly with a stumbling block.
John is not commanding us to be perfect here,
but what he is saying is that our relationship with God is the starting point when we love others.
If there is something that is hindering or harming or destroying our relationship with God,
then it is destroying our love for others as well.
A few weeks ago I met a Christian man
who attends one of the stronger evangelical churches in Newcastle.
During my conversation with him, the subject turned to the existence of Satan.
Although this man was a Christian and went to this evangelical church,
he refused to believe in the existence of a literal Satan.
Now it was not as though he was denying the trinity or the resurrection of Jesus,
but he was choosing to disbelieve God’s word.
What could I do?
I didn’t point the finger at him, or command him to repent,
I simply stated that I couldn’t help believe in Satan because the Bible clearly pointed out his existence.
I didn’t say that he was denying the Bible, but he got the message.
Now the fact is that until he repents of his sin in this area, he cannot love others properly.
This is actually the reason why ecumenicalism can be dangerous.
Ecumenicalism is the belief that all Christian forms of worship and understanding are acceptable.
Should we get together with the other local churches in joint worship?
It might work, but can we have fellowship with anyone who denies the basic beliefs of Christianity?
If the churches are gospel-preaching, Bible-honouring churches then that is fine.
But if they don’t believe in the Bible, we should probably avoid it.
It’s not that there aren’t Christians in those churches,
there most certainly are,
but that does not necessarily mean the church is believing Christian teaching.
The problem with ecumenicalism is that it does away with Biblical truth as being important when loving people.
4. Practical ways of loving.
John doesn’t give a lot of advice at this point on exactly what it means to love others in a practical sense.
Because of this we won’t spend a great deal of time on this point.
The Bible has a great deal of practical information about love and loving,
and I suggest that you read
1 Corinthians 13,
the book of James
and the second half of most of Paul’s letters for more practical issues.
John’s message to us at this point is practical
- to love properly we must be Christians,
and we must not have any stumbling blocks in our lives to hinder our relationship with God.
I started off today by saying how the word “love” is often misapplied and misunderstood in our modern world.
Well, I don’t think we’ve been able to fully define what love actually is,
but we have been able to focus on the important areas of Christian love.
So what is love?
Love has to be defined by God.
When God speaks of love he speaks of love which is determined by the lover, rather than the object loved.
By this I mean that God loves us even though there is nothing in us that deserves love.
We don’t have to earn God’s love,
he chooses to love us for who we are.
And how do we know God’s love?
How do we experience it?
We know it through Christ.
By sending his son to die and rise again,
God gives us the means by which we are forgiven and have friendship with him.
When we turn to God in repentance and faith, we experience in full the love God has for us.
And it is only by experiencing this love that we can understand what love is,
and how we should love others.
More than that, if we have experienced God’s love
then we have no option but to love our brothers and sisters.
And if we love our brothers and sisters,
we are to make sure that our lives have no stumbling blocks in them that will hinder or destroy our faith.
Because our relationship with God is central in our relationship with others.
We love others because God first loved us.
Let me pray.
Heavenly Father, you loved the world so much that you sent your son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. We thank you that we have experienced your love and thank you that you love us for who we are, rather than for what is good in us. Give us hearts that love you, and gives us wisdom to love others. Expose in us any fault or belief that hurts our relationship with you, so that we can love others more fully. Lord God, we live in the light of your salvation. Thank you for taking us from the darkness and bringing us into safety. Thank you that you have turned us from blindness to true sight. And thank you that you have turned us from hate and indifference to love you and others. AMEN.
From the Keyrgmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.