Bible Passage: 1 John 3:10-24
Love has Rules
V.11.“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
Summary of the teachings of Christ: Love God, love others. Everyone stands for love. But is it enough to simply promote love? Can love exist by itself? Love has rules. And everyone believes in it. Let me give you an example. A husband to his wife, “I love you so much, so much that I cannot bear the thought of you ever betraying our marriage. Because of this, I do not allow you to build friendships with other men. I won’t allow you to leave the house without my approval. In fact, I will tell you everyday that you are stupid and ugly, and that no one will ever love you except me, so that you will never ever think about leaving me. I just can’t risk it. I love you so much.” Let me give you another example. A mother to her child, “I love you so much, so much that I cannot bear the thought of you ever being upset or getting hurt. Because of this, I will never discipline you, and I will never allow others to tell you that you are wrong. Instead, I will shower you with hugs and kisses daily. I will give you anything you want. I just want you to be my baby forever.” With this said, I would like to establish two mental categories of love in your mind. On the one hand, there is the category of true love. And on the other hand, there is the category of false love. Some loves are true and some loves are false. And this is why the LGBT slogan “love is love” simply doesn’t make sense. What the slogan actually says is that there are no ethical categories for love. As long as you think that the feeling of love is real, then it is true love. But this is now how the world works. The reason why I chose these two examples specifically, is because I think most people would agree with me, that this so-called love is not actually true love. The overly-protective husband who manipulates his wife emotionally, or the foolish mother who overly pampers her child, these are examples of false love. Christian or not, I think we can all agree that not all loves are true love. Love is not just a pure feeling devoid of content. Instead, there are actual rules of love we live by. And these rules help us to distinguish between true love and false love. Now the question is, how do you assign different kinds of love to their categories? How do we know which kind of love is true, and which kind is bad? Well, according to the world, one common rule people use is the “Harm Principle.” This principle states that as long as the action does not harm another person, then you can do whatever you want. Another rule the world often uses is the “Consent Principle.” As long as all parties involved agree with the action, then you can do whatever you want. I want to assure you that these rules are generally good. They help maintain order in society, and they provide some kind of guidance for the world to decide what is right and wrong. For example, the harm principle and the consent principle, together they outlaw pedophilia and domestic abuse. It’s really hard to imagine a world where the slogan “love is love” is applied consistently. Truly, all hell would break loose, and human society as we know it would crumble.
However, these rules, they all fall short, in two ways: Firstly, these rules fall short because they are baseless. There are no absolute ethical foundations to validate them. We can all agree that we should not harm others. We can all agree that consent is generally good for interpersonal relationships. But if we go one step deeper and ask, “Why?” The world would soon realise that they hit rock bottom. After all, why can’t I harm people if I wish to? Why should I seek consent? If that action is my genuine desire, and that action makes me happy, why should I restrict myself for other people’s wellbeing? Secondly, these rules fall short because they fail to take God into account. These rules are human-centred rules. They only talk about our responsibility toward other humans, but not toward the God who made us, sustains us, and redeemed us from sin and death. For people who govern their love according to human-centred rules, it is true that they do not know God. They do not appreciate God’s wonderful and purposeful creation. They do not consider themselves as sinners, so they do not accept God’s redeeming love. And because they do not think that they belong to God and are responsible to him, they do not think that God’s rules for love make sense. And they say to God, “After all, why can’t I abort my baby out of love? Why can’t I marry someone of the same sex out of love?” These loves make sense if we see love as purely human-centred. Truly, it is to fulfil what God said in 1 John chapter 2, the previous chapter, where it says in verse 3, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” If we do not know God, why would anyone seek to obey him? And the opposite is also true: If we know him, wouldn’t this knowledge show in whatever we do in life, especially when we seek to live out love, the greatest rule of life?
The Illustration of Cain
And in our passage today, the apostle John uses the story of Cain as an example to illustrate this kind of human-centred love. In verse 12 it is said, “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.” Cain and his brother Abel were two sons of Adam and Eve. And their story is written in the book of Genesis, chapter 4. It is a brief but tragic story. One day, the brothers made a sacrifice to the Lord. Cain, who was a farmer, gave his crops as a sacrifice to God, whereas Abel, who was a shepherd, gave the firstborn of his sheep as a sacrifice to God. However, God received Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. And Cain was jealous of his brother Abel, and for this jealousy he murdered Abel. Before he killed Abel, God actually spoke to Cain personally. God said, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” The Bible did not make clear to us what it is that Cain did not do well, while Abel did well. But the Bible does hint to the fact that it was sin. Because in this conversation, God said that sin is crouching waiting to attack, and its desire is to control Cain. And here in our passage, verse 12, it is also said that Cain’s deed was evil, while Abel’s deed was righteous. Now, why did John use Cain as an example? Firstly, I believe it is because Cain did love God, or at least he thought he did love God. If he didn’t love God, why would he make a sacrifice to God in the first place? And if he didn’t love God, why would he then become jealous of his brother Abel, whose sacrifice was received by God? Cain cared about God’s opinion on his sacrifice. But he didn’t care about God’s opinion on his sin. He loved God in a way that he desired God to receive his sacrifice, but not himself. Cain did not approach God by faith, seeking to glorify God and submit to God. Instead, he came to God, for his own selfish desire, and according to his own rules. And his sin came to a climactic fruition when he raised his hand and killed his own brother. Did Cain love God? If love is a feeling, then yes, Cain did love God. But if love is defined by God and ruled by God’s rule, then Cain did not love God. If a grown adult loves a toddler romantically, then that love is no love. Because that love breaks the rule that governs what true love is. In the same way, Cain did not love God according to the rule that God had set. He loved God while he refused to leave his sin. He loved God to the point of killing his brother in jealousy. This love is no love. But I believe there is a second reason why Cain was used as an example of human-centred love. It is because of the separation between the children of God and the children of Satan. In last week’s sermon, we saw how apostle John divides the world’s population into two households: the household of God and the household of Satan. Those who belong to the household of God would do righteousness, as God their father is righteous, while those who belong to the household of Satan would do evil, as Satan their father is evil. However, this separation was not John’s creative illustration.
It is the reality of mankind that God himself had made known to us since the fall of mankind. In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve had sinned, God said to the serpent, who was Satan himself, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring.” After the fall, all men became sinners and were enslaved by Satan. And God calls them the offspring or children of the evil serpent. However, God himself promised that Satan would not be able to dominate all of mankind. Instead, God will save a people for himself, who will reject Satan and sin, and put their faith in God. These people, God calls them, the offspring of the woman. And the whole book of Genesis is a war story between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman. They were all humans. They all came from Adam and Eve, but they were all separated into two households, according to who they imitate and follow. Those who belong to the household of God, they live their lives according to the rules of righteousness, centred around God. But those who belong to the household of Satan, they live their lives according to the rules of sin, centred around the self. And Cain is chosen to be the illustration of the children of Satan, because his killing of his brother is a clear example of the enmity between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman. And sin divides the world into two irreconcilable groups: God’s people and Satan’s people. And just as Cain hated his brother Abel, those who oppose God will likewise hate those who obey and worship God.
This is why, verse 13 in our passage says, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” Of course, we Christians shouldn’t develop some kind of unhealthy victim complex, thinking that the whole world is coming after our lives. This hatred that the world harbours toward Christians comes in different forms. It is true that in some countries, Christian persecution is extreme and deadly. We must always be attentive to the voice of the martyrs, whose blood cries out, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” However, by God’s grace, this hatred toward Christians is not as extreme in many other countries, including Australia, in which we live. On this land, our lives are not threatened. We can still build churches and do evangelism publicly. Still, this hatred manifests itself in various ways: In company policies against Bible’s teachings and evangelism. In politicians who pass bills promoting abortion and same sex marriage. In schools teaching various kinds of love. And our passage tells us, don’t be surprised. If it happened to Jesus, it will happen to you. In fact, the Bible goes one step further to say this: it is not that it could happen to you, or that it might happen to you. No. These words are not representative of the opposition between the two households. Instead, it is that if you follow Jesus, and you are doing it right, it should happen to you. Because for those who love with a human-centred love, there is no room in their heart and their worldview for a God who rules over love, who sovereignly defines what true love is.
The Illustration of Jesus
To illustrate this kind of love, who else could apostle John point to, but Jesus Christ, who is the manifestation of God’s love, who came to show us who God is? And thus verse 16 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.” In the death of Jesus, God’s love was put on full display. Firstly, we know the extent of such love, when the sinless lays down his life for the sinful, the Creator for the creature, and the infinite for the finite. Secondly, we know the nature of such love, when the Son of God fulfilled the demands of justice by bearing the punishment of sin for us. He had to die in order to save us from death. The payment must be made. And so he died, according to the law. On the cross of Christ, the true love, which fulfils the righteousness of God, is shown. True love submits to the rule of God. Thirdly, we know the purity of such love, when Jesus died for us who can give nothing back to him. He didn’t do it because he needed something from us. When we had nothing, he gave himself to us freely. While it is true that we owe God thanks and worship and full devotion for his love, we must understand that God doesn’t need anything we can offer. He is self-sufficient, and because of that, his love is pure. Having said all that, let us now return to the mental categories of love that we had established previously.
Between the category of true love and the category of false love, what is the rule that distinguishes between true love and false love? The answer is the commandment of God. If an action of love goes against the rules that God had set, then it is not true love. And if we live by the rules that God had set for us, then whatever we do will always be a loving action. Because what is right and what is loving, they exist in perfect harmony if God. The God we know is perfectly righteous and alse perfectly loving. There was never a time when God had to sacrifice his love to do something right, nor was there ever a time when he needed to sacrifice his righteousness in order to love. And that is true love. True love is a relationship we build with others that is governed by God’s rules. So, how should a husband love his wife? He loves his wife by defining his relationship with her by God’s word. God commands all husbands to love his wife, just as Jesus loved the church and gave himself for her. And how should a parent love a child? Again, by disciplining the child, raise the child in the fear of the Lord, and to not provoke them to anger, all which are, again, defined by the Bible.
But just knowing Christ’s love, is not the full package of knowing what love is. V.16 continues, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” In other words, we are sure that we really know what love is, if we fulfil two conditions: Firstly, that we know Christ’s love. The love he showed us when he laid down his life for us. But that’s not all. Because such knowledge does not simply stay as knowledge only. Secondly, those who know the true love of God, shown in Christ, will willingly lay down their lives for their brothers. We are forgiven by God in Christ, and we are called to forgive others just as we were first forgiven. We were loved by God in Christ, and so we are called to love one another just as we were first loved. Is this passage focused on loving brothers, or loving everyone? While it is true that the Bible elsewhere teaches us to love all men, including our enemies, this passage, however, is focused on loving our brothers. Because according to our passage, this love is a mark of a true Christian. You can see that throughout the letter, apostle John is tackling a problem: How do I know that I am a Christian? And apostle John had mentioned a few: believing in the unchanging gospel, obeying Christ, and today a new mark is mentioned: love your brothers and sisters. If you run through the passage, the phrase “By this we know” is repeated many times. V.10 says, “By this it is evident who are the children of God… the one who does not love his brother [is not of God].” V.16 says, “By this we know love, that… we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” V.19 says, “By this [which is loving one another] we shall know what we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him.” And the second part of V.24 says, “By this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” All these verse are telling us one thing, those who believe in Christ’s love, will love one another. So, if we love one another, we can be sure that we believe in Christ’s love, and we can be sure of our salvation. This love is a special kind of love that one Christian has for another. It is a love that is shaped by Christ’s love for us, and our love for Christ. If two persons strive to love one another just as Christ loved both of them, how strong and how genuine will this bond of love be? It is a love that makes you want to live with them, to share their suffering with them, and to enjoy the same glory in humiliation with them. This love comes from God, not from ourselves. Just as verse 24b says, “And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” And since this love comes from God, and is not given to anyone but to God’s people, this love should stand in stark contrast with the love of the unbelievers. They should look at the church, the family of God, and realise that love is here. When hatred fills the unbelieving world, in politics, in family, and in businesses, the church stands as a testimony of what true love looks like. It is a love that puts others before ourselves. It is a love that conforms to the rules of God. And how does this inter-Christian, Christ-centred love look like? Verse 18 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Firstly, this love is done in deed. V.17. “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?” True Christian love is not just a feeling. It’s not just liking one another in our hearts. We must look out for one another, we must pay attention to one another’s needs, and we must be ready to fulfil those needs. When we look at our bank account and plan for our spending, we should keep a mental note that a portion of that is ready to be deployed as an act of love. If a brother loses his job and is struggling financially, we should be ready to lend. If someone gets ill, the whole church community should be ready to support. While verse 17 focuses on physical needs, we know that God had put us together also to fulfil spiritual needs. To encourage a sister who is defeated by her situations and circumstances. To rebuke a brother who is unrepentant. Sharing: church’s “support groups” for counselling, for mothers who just delivered a baby, and for the sick.
Secondly, this love is done in truth. What does it mean to love in truth? Simply put, to love in truth means to love according to the rules of God. Just as God’s love encompasses all that is good, so too shall our love be. To love in truth means to love for the right reasons and motivations. Not the “how,” but the “why.”Why do we love? We love because God first loved us. We love because we owe our life to God, and he wants us to spend our life for love. We love because we want to imitate Christ, who came not to be served but to serve. V.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.” This love is an extreme example of self-forgetfulness and self-giving to others, even life itself! Other than that, to love in truth means to love all brothers and sisters, no exception. Not because they are lovely, but because they are loved by Christ. To love like Christ: while we were still sinners, because the Father sent Jesus to die for us. Self reflection: pastoral role requires so much love. The amount of love that I did not expect before entering the ministry. But this command to love is not just given to ministers, but to all Christians. This is why we cannot gather anonymously, or just gather and leave immediately. We don’t come to receive love primarily, but to give love to one another. “Why is this church so unloving?” “I won’t love others, because they don’t love me.” Perhaps it should begin with you. Log in the eye vs. speck in others.
John 13:34-35. “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.” Not your gifts and accomplishments, but your love for one another, in deed and in truth.
1. Do you think it is right for God to outlaw homosexual, romantic love, when it harms nobody, and when everyone involved give their consent?
a. And if God is right, why?
2. Verse 16 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” In other words, God’s true love is shown precisely because Jesus died for us.
a. Do you think it is meaningful for God to forgive us through the death of Jesus Christ, instead of just letting go of our sins? What does God’s justice have to do with his love?
3. The passage tells us Christians to love one another in deed and in truth.
a. What does loving in deed and in truth mean?
b. How does loving one another in deed look like in your interaction with other brothers and sisters in church? How can our church do better in this? And if there is a way that the church can do better, how do you see yourself being a part of this change?
i. Consider this carefully, as it is a mark of true Christianity. No one can shrug this command off and just ignore it.
If you have any questions regarding the sermon, please feel free to send an email to me to this address: [email protected]