Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 3

John continues with his themes of love and hate by showing how we must demonstrate our love to one another. Love isn’t merely a feeling; it must be demonstrated by action. Our “cosmic-lover” is none other than God the Father, and because God loves us so much, and since He proved His love by sending Jesus to purchase our redemption, we are to follow His example by loving one another.

Children of God Love One Another
3 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.

13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

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Children of God
3 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

It’s really an amazing thing to read this text and give it a chance to sink in; this is a text to read slowly, prayerfully…

While we were dead in our sinful rebellion against God, He loved us so much, even in spite of our mindset against Him, that he went to extraordinary lengths to redeem us to Himself, and once reborn, we are now His children. There are moments when we may not feel like it, but when God looks upon us, He sees His own children… what more is there to say?

If we are in Christ, God sees us, NOT in our sin and despair, but as “holy and righteous”, not because we are inherently “holy and righteous”, but because our Savior, Jesus Christ, ISholy and righteous”, and God sees us through Him. Furthermore, we are “saints”, not because we feel like “saints”, but because God calls us saints”. Our feelings don’t dictate our “status” before God. One of my previous pastors, Ray Cortese, had a favorite saying which he loved to quote often, “If God has a refrigerator, your pictures are all over it.” That is something we can relate to, because we may have family pictures all over our refrigerator also. I do…

None of us really can appreciate exactly what that entails. It’s like being asked what heaven is like… I’ve been asked this many times, but I must admit that I don’t really know. People repeat certain Biblical passages about heaven, and act as though they know all, but they are kidding themselves, for they are quoting non-literal passages that give indications of certain aspects of heaven, but not details, and do you know how I can say this so boldly? It’s easy; human language does not, nor could it ever, contain the vocabulary to describe fully, accurately and completely those things which no man has ever seen and reported directly – we have no references to comprehend.

The same is true for being children of God. Much remains “hidden” for there is simply no vocabulary to convey the full meaning. When we see Jesus Christ face-to-face, we will see all! What a glorious hope! It is only natural and proper for us to respond to this by setting aside the old life, the old ways, and to be pure as He is pure to the best of our ability, and according to His leading.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. (1 John 3:4-6)

John highlights the point made above about purity in these verses. For us to disregard everything He has done for us, to reject His love and His grace and remain in the old ways is simply inconceivable! That isn’t to say that we will never struggle or make mistakes; it isn’t to say that we are suddenly perfect. He came to take sin away, after all, not to catch us messing up. John is once again pointing out the contrast between the follower of Jesus Christ and the one who rejects Jesus Christ. He doesn’t appear to be referring in any way to a follower who had a bad day; however, he IS referring to someone who claims to be a “follower” of Christ but continues in a sinful lifestyle. We all have “bad days“, which the Apostle Paul laments in Romans 7:14-25.

14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

What is it that really jumps out at you here?

For me, the thing that jumps out is that not only is God’s love for us amazing, boundless and tremendous, but that it holds implications that go far beyond anything that we can even begin to comprehend in our current mortal state, and that our hope for eternal life is not only assured, but far more amazing than anyone has ever understood it to be!

Doing What is Right
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (1 John 3:7-10)

This is an interesting passage with which to begin any day. Don’t let anyone lead you astray! There are many who would do so, and they may try by appealing to our pride or vanity, they might appeal to greed or lust, they might even appeal to our intellect with attractive arguments or curious reasoning, but have you ever asked yourself why they would bother?

John gives the reason in this passage: They are sinful, of the devil and doing the devil’s work, because the devil has been in rebellion against God since the beginning and is looking for allies… or at least to separate us from Christ. It is really important that we get this point. It is the work of the devil to separate us from Christ, because in Christ, we are part of His work, and His work is to destroy the works of the devil. Actually, this is so simple we might miss it! In Christ, we are a threat, so there will be opposition, and one of our enemy’s most potent weapons is DOUBT.

Within this context, John speaks of doing what is right as opposed to doing what is sinful, and in this context doing what is right means following Jesus Christ, and doing what is sinful means not following Christ and trying to lead His followers astray. So far, this is very straight forward, and then John throws us a curve at the end, a curve that leads us to the next section. Doing right means that we love one another, doing wrong means that we don’t.

Wait! I thought you just said that doing right was following Jesus, and doing wrong was not following Jesus! Where did all of this love stuff come from?

Simple answer: If we do not love one another as He loved us, then we can’t possibly be following Jesus Christ, because loving one another is where He is leading.

What we have heard from the Beginning
For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 John 3:11-15)

Well, we HAVE heard this message from the beginning, that we should love one another. A quick look through Christian blogs will reveal that everybody writes about it at one time or another… or every day. Why does it take so long to sink in for so many?

John takes us right to the story of Cain and Abel, an interesting choice. He tells us that Cain murdered his brother because Cain was following the evil one, that his actions were evil and Abel’s actions were righteous; murder was the result. Now to be fair to Cain, I’ve never heard this mentioned as a motive for murder on a detective show before. The usual motives for murder are hatred, greed, fear of exposure, jealousy… wait! Maybe that’s the one; jealousy! He was jealous because Abel was righteous and Cain was evil, and that led to hatred, which led to murder. I wonder if Perry Mason or DCS Foyle would see it that way….

It would seem that John is suggesting that evil will oppress the righteous. Then he takes another interesting step, adding linkage that we should pay close attention to, because it takes the old story from Genesis and brings it starkly to life: Do not be surprised if the world hates you.

I never cease to be amazed when Christians act all horrified and indignant that certain elements in society oppose us at every turn. What is surprising about that? Certain elements in society murdered God’s prophets and opposed the Lord Himself to the point of death, not to mention the early church, and evil regimes all through the ages. There is nothing new in any of this. No, it is not a sign that the end is near, it is a sign that we are in the last age, just as John said his readers were…

We must love one another, because we have passed from death into life. We must love one another because God first loved us and He also loves our brother, and we love our brother because we love God. This too is nothing new. How will the world know that we are in Christ? Because we love one another. Will the world hate that? Yes, but many will also want it and be attracted to it, because once you separate individuals from the society in which they live, they want what we have in Christ.

Therefore, loving one another spreads the Gospel and accomplishes God’s purpose.

Love is Active
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

This is where “the rubber meets the road”…

We now come to an amazing text regarding love and what it really is. The concept of Christian love, love of our brother or sister, is not merely an abstract idea; it is a reality of life that requires action. John gives us the model of Christ as the example of what love looks like in action. Jesus loved us, and so He set His own life aside so that we might live. In the same way, John calls upon us to set aside our own lives for the sake of others. This may not necessarily require our physical death, for there is more to the teaching of Christ than that. It will most certainly require that we set our interests aside to serve others.

John uses the specific example of one who has material resources giving them to a brother or sister who is in need in these verses. How can we possibly sit by and let our brother or sister suffer when we have the means to bring relief; to do so is not showing the person love. We can think of other circumstances in which we may have what a hurting person might need, and we must not withhold aid, even though giving aid can be quite inconvenient. Very often these days, we may come across a brother or sister who has emotional pain, and we must be ready to give whatever comfort and relief that we can.

Whatever the particular case may be, we must understand that loving one another doesn’t simply mean to be nice, it means to put others first in thought, and deed as well as in words. This is what it means to follow Jesus Christ; this is what it means to love one another!

Do You Really Know for Sure?
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us. (1 John 3:19-24)

Chapter 3 of John’s first letter ends with the assurance that we can know for sure where we stand with God, but it isn’t the answer that most of us give if we are asked “How can I know?“…

John’s answer is that we know by the Spirit within us.

Well steady on there, isn’t that the Spirit that so many are waiting for…until “it” decides to move…?

Yes, that one, the one that we say we can’t hear.

Yes, that’s the one John is referring to!

John takes a little different tack than we often do. He says that we will notice whether or not the Spirit within us condemns us, we know that God is greater than our hearts and knows all. I think that many of us today use slightly different terminology for this by saying that we “feel convicted” about something. When this happens, we have something to seek forgiveness for and have the need to alter our behavior or attitudes in some way. When we are not condemned by our hearts, we are confident in His presence. We know that in saying these things, John is making reference to the work of the Spirit in our lives because he says so in the last part of the passage. Now, the remaining question is whether or not this is really true in our lives.

Over the years I’ve noticed that many people will tell me about their active prayer lives. They will tell me all about the countless hours they spend with God and all the rest. On other occasions, they will tell me that they never notice the Spirit working within them, and that’s how I know for sure that they don’t have any of this great prayer life they like to go on about. The reason is that seeking His presence is how we are able to discern the Spirit that is within us! Notice that John linked the two in verse 21 and 22:

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask,

You should notice something else here. Here’s verse 22 in full: and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.

Yes, we will receive anything we ask in prayer, if we “keep his commands and do what pleases him.” As always in John’s writings, asking and receiving are mentioned firmly within the context of doing His will, and not in doing our will. So, can you really know for sure where you stand with God? YES!

Seek His presence and you’ll find out!

Sola Deo Gloria!

Parables: The Pharisee and the Tax-Collector

As I read and contemplated this parable a few nights ago, I was struck by how Jesus addressed attitudes that were not only prevalent in His day, but are also common among religious people today. Whose attitude do you see in yourself?

9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Target audience…
Did you notice who He spoke this parable to? “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:” He spoke it to the self-righteous, probably the Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. Jesus butted heads with that group often, and they took the brunt of some of His worst barbs. Let’s break this down and look at their attitudes individually.

Self-righteous…
They were sure that they “had it made“. Observe: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’” WOW! They were “shining-examples” of exemplary behavior to all of those around them. They had a list of “do’s” and “don’t’s” way longer than my arms, and they kept them to the letter. If anyone was going to please God and get into heaven, it was going to be them. After all, since God had given quite a few rules already, wouldn’t more rules be even better? God should REALLY be impressed. There was only one “little” problem…they were doing it THEIR way.

Despised others…
They were SO sure that they had it “right“, that they believed that they had the RIGHT to look down their long, Jewish noses at anyone who didn’t meet their high standards. Observe: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.” Tax-collectors were particularly-despised, because they were often Jews who had sold out to the Romans, and they collected Roman taxes for a piece of the “action“. Matthew was a tax-collector before Jesus called him to be a disciple.

Two men…
Jesus introduced two men, a Pharisee, and a tax-collector. They both went to the temple, ostensibly for the same reason – to pray, and yet their demeanor, and the outcome of their prayers were very different. Notice the Pharisee’s demeanor: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself,…“, contrasted with the Tax-collector’s demeanor: “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast,…“.

The Pharisee stood there in arrogance and pride, while the Tax-collector approached God in genuine humility. The content of their prayers was also entirely-different.

Their prayers…
The Pharisee said: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’“, as if to remind God of how “good” he was.

The Tax-collector said: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” The Tax-collector knew that he was a sinner, and that he couldn’t do it on his own, so he threw himself on the mercy of God.

Their outcomes…
Both men prayed, but very different prayers, and two entirely-different outcomes. Jesus said: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

God heard the Tax-collector’s prayer, but the Pharisee’s prayer didn’t even get much more than out of his mouth before it fell flat.

Jesus’s commentary on their results is particularly-telling: “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Do we exalt ourselves, or do we humble ourselves?

Thoughts…
Jesus pointed out a much-needed “attitude-adjustment” that His audience needed to make, but as was typical of His other encounters with them, I doubt that it had much of an effect. We still need that “attitude-adjustment” just as badly as they did almost two-thousand years ago, because we can always find “worse-sinners” to look down on, or can we? Is their sin any “worse” than our own? If you think so, remember that God hates PRIDE…

The ROOT of those attitudes was PRIDE, pride in their ability to make God “happy” by their own efforts, and pride in the fact that they were “better” than that poor Tax-collector. PRIDE and me go WAY back, and at times, we have been best-friends, because I have always been accomplishment-oriented. My accomplishments have always been the basis for my self-esteem and the foundation of my self-worth, and the only way to give myself a “boost” was to pat myself on the back. This is nothing new to those of you who have been following this blog for a while, but for the newcomers, go back and read “Pride“.

Do you think that you are going to make it to heaven “your way“? Do you think that you are “better” than other people? If so, I pray that you will meditate on this parable and ask God to help you with that “attitude-adjustment“.

God bless!
Steve