1 John 3:23-24
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. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
The Story: To those who have their notebooks out ready to jot down the list of God’s commandments, John announced the short list of commandments everyone already knew. John was there when people asked Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:28-29). And John was in the Upper Room when Jesus washed his feet and then said, “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” (John 13:34-35). Obedience to these two commandments—to believe and to love—said John, is what it means to live in God and to have God living within by the Holy Spirit. That is, it’s a whole lot less complicated than his readers thought.
The Structure: Writing this week’s Worldview Bible devotions, I have a thought and a feeling. That thought is that John repeated himself rather a lot. Not that I’m suggesting he needed a better editor. The repetition was and is absolutely necessary for these truths to cut to the heart. Those of us who think about Christian worldview can overcomplicate things. John repeated the same simple truths about believing in Jesus and loving our brothers and sisters. I need that. Great relief comes from the repetition of those simple truths. No one ever said the Christian life was easy. It’s not. But it is simple. God, who knows everything (verse 19) wants us to abide in Him and thus succeed in living the Christian life. “He who did not spare his own Son,” wrote Paul in Romans 8:32, “but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
As you contemplate the cross today and celebrate the resurrection on Sunday, consider how much God loves you and seek your rest in Him.
1 John 3:19-22
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
The Story: Again we see John the pastor. The preceding verses could, he knew, disturb those whose consciences were particularly scrupulous. Do I really love my brothers and sisters? If not, does it mean that I’m “a murderer” and excluded from eternal life (verse 15)? What about that Christian friend I could have helped last week? John calmed his readers down by reminding them that in Christ, there is forgiveness. Though they may have condemned themselves for their sins, God, who really knew their sins, had love that overcame even that inner condemnation. In this, John wrote, his readers could have confidence. John presented God not as an angry judge, but as the Good Shepherd who gives and gives. Their response—keeping His commandments and doing what pleases Him—could follow naturally.
The Structure: Many Christians are conscientious people who in every area of life want to do the right thing. And so we rush about with a long Christian to-do list. The result is as sad as it is predictable. There’s the Pharisee result where we succeed in doing it all (or at least convincing ourselves that we’re doing it all) and are very proud of ourselves. Then there’s the failure result where we . . . well, we fail and feel miserable. It’s the second result John addressed here. God knows all, including all the flaws we are aware of and all of the flaws we are not aware of. And He loves us. We can have confidence not because of what we’ve done, but because of His love. And it’s from that place of confidence that we can be bold to ask for what we need and generous in keeping His commandments and doing what pleases Him.
Are you a Pharisee or a failure? What can help you put more and more confidence in God and His love for you?
1 John 3:17-18
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? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
The Story: John, like a good pastor, stated a principle—love one another by laying down your lives for others—and then gave a practical example and application of what he had in mind. Poverty in the ancient world was rampant, and many of the poor found a spiritual home in the Christian Church. But even there, they were not always treated as one would hope (see James 2:1-4). John (and James 2:15-17) told his readers that the measure of their love was the way they treated the neediest in their fellowship. Nice talk about love even if it’s dressed up in religious language doesn’t help those in need. Only love that is “in deed” and therefore “in truth” helps others and maintains their human and Christian dignity. God did not simply talk about loving us; He gave us the good things of creation and, above all, sent His Son to redeem us. That, John insisted, is the example Christians need to follow.
The Structure: While John was certainly addressing the lack of material goods, most of our neighbors have their share of the things of this world. But poverty—poverty that Christians can and should address—goes far beyond what food stamps, Medicaid, and rent subsidies can cure. There is moral, cultural, and religious poverty as well, and these often conspire to produce material poverty. Cooperation among Christians to address the moral, cultural, and religious poverty in our midst is long overdue. And the people I know who are involved in such cooperative efforts all make one thing clear: It is not easy. Love as good feelings will be crushed, but love that imitates God’s love can work wonders in the lives of our less fortunate brother and sister.
What opportunities are there to address the poverty in your community? How can you and your church love “in deed and in truth”?
1 John 3:16
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
The Story: For John, there is one and only one standard of love: Jesus Christ crucified. “This is my commandment,” Jesus told them the night before He died, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Then He added, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). Perhaps John contemplated those words as he stood with Mary at the foot of the cross and Jesus entrusted His mother into John’s care, asking him to lay down his life for her. Jesus’ words about love and His incomparable example shaped John’s life and ministry. Those words dictated the content of his preaching. And as he cared for his flock by writing them a letter, he encouraged them with the same words. Live, he told them, the way Jesus lived, with love that holds back nothing, not even life.
The Structure: After decades of being told that love is a warm, fuzzy, intoxicating, happy, rollercoaster feeling, most of us are inclined to believe it. Love is emotional, romantic, and makes me feel fantastic. But not in the Bible. “When the Bible speaks of love,” writes Tim Keller in “The Meaning of Marriage,” “it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yourself to someone.” If love is about how I feel, other people become commodities for my emotional use, and that kind of “love” is doomed to die when others cease to meet my needs. Love that lasts, even on a purely human level, is the love that sacrifices even when there is nothing emotional, romantic, or fantastic about it. Love, commitment, and duty, in fact, go together. Jesus struggled in the garden (Mark 14:35-42) and then, acting out of perfect love, did what needed to be done. Parents do that with infants, spouses do it when one is infirm, and Christians do it for the sake of their often cantankerous brothers and sisters in Christ.
What is your understanding of the meaning of love? In what ways is God calling you to lay down your life for others?
1 John 3:14-15
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
The Story: Just as he did in his gospel (John 20:31), John put his purpose for writing at the end of this letter. In 5:13, he wrote, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” His goal in writing was to reassure his readers that they belonged to God and had passed, with Jesus, from death to life. How would they know? By the love they showed for one another. In this, he recalled two things Jesus had said. First, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus equated anger and hateful words to a brother with murder, making one “liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22). By contrast, as He told them after washing their feet, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Love for fellow believers marked, for John, the boundary between eternal life and eternal death.
The Structure: We are inclined today to tell people that if they “pray the prayer” receiving Christ, they can know for certain that they’ve passed from eternal death to eternal life. John’s words should make us think again about that kind of assurance in the lives of others and in our own lives. In his “Treatise Concerning Religious Affections,” 18th-century American theologian Jonathan Edwards warned, “Godliness is more easily feigned in words than in actions.” Or, in more modern idiom, “Talk is cheap.” What marks us as God’s own? Edwards wrote, “But it is doubtless true, and evident from [the] Scriptures, that the essence of all true religion lies in holy love; and that in this divine affection, and an habitual disposition to it, and that light which is the foundation of it, and those things which are the fruits of it, consists the whole of religion.”
If the standard is love for your brothers and sisters, how does your faith stack up?
1 John 3:12-13
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. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.
The Story: John illustrated his point about the children of God and the children of the devil by going back almost to the beginning, to Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). Cain’s murderous anger against Abel began with their sacrifices. Cain offered vegetables, and Abel the firstborn of his flocks. Cain’s sacrifice, wrote John, was evil. It said more about what Cain wanted than it did about what God asked. His “sacrifice,” in fact, slandered the God he professed to worship by rewriting the rules of sacrifice as he chose. In this, Cain showed his resemblance to the devil, who, in tempting Jesus, offered everything “if you will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9), that is, if you will accept reality on my terms, not God’s. This, John wrote, is why the world hates the Church. The world wants to dictate the terms just as Cain did, just as the devil did. Christians, following their Lord, refuse that bargain.
The Structure: Today we face a situation that, while not the same, is similar to the one John wrote about. In the book “Light of the World,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI told interviewer Peter Seewald, “In a world that has become relativistic, a new paganism has gained more and more dominion over people’s thoughts and actions. It has long since become clear not only that there is a blank space, a vacuum, alongside the Church, but also that something like an anti-church has been established.” This, in large measure, explains the growing hatred for the Church and the erosion of our religious liberty. Many want to withhold the free exercise of their religion from those who believe in offensive ideas like absolute truth, objective standards of right and wrong, and a fixed human nature. Christians in the West, while not persecuted, are despised in many precincts of our culture for refusing to give in to those who wish to reinvent humanity, morality, and truth according to their changing desires. So “do not be surprised.”
How can you show Christ-like love for those who despise Christianity and Christians? How does that kind of love witness to the Truth?