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Great Themes of the Bible: Loving One Another

14 Mar

(Romans 12:9-13 NIV)  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. {10} Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. {11} Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. {12} Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. {13} Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

There are people all around us who are starving for love. For the sake of its absence, people dull their intense pain with drugs, give themselves to sexual predators who persuade them to confuse having sex with being loved, or otherwise try to fill a huge empty hole in their hearts.

The church is intended by God to be not only a community of faith but of hope and love as well. With God as our Father, we are brothers and sisters to one another — looking out for one another so that nobody is forced to feel like an orphaned child whom nobody wants.

Our society is also obsessed with sports, recreation, entertainment, and emotional gratification, and it is paying the consequences of that unbalanced preoccupation. When such pursuits exceed their reasonable roles, they become conspicuous marks of the shallow, superficial, and often decadent society that cultivates them. “Bodily discipline is only of little profit,” Paul cautions, “but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).

Teddy Roosevelt once commented, “The things that will destroy America are prosperity at any price, peace at any price, safety first instead of duty first, the love of soft living and the get-rich theory of life.” That observation is still valid.

The only productive life, as well as the only truly satisfying life, is the self-disciplined life. That is certainly true of the Christian life. Although our spiritual guidance and power come from the Lord, He can only work effectively through lives that are subjected to Him. “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things,” Paul reminded the church at Corinth. “They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:25-27).

Only the disciplined mind can think clearly and be used of the Lord to properly understand and present His truth to the world. Only the disciplined mind can effectively evaluate and challenge the world’s ideals and standards in the light of that truth. By the same token, only the disciplined Christian life can be a persuasive and effective example, both within the church and before the world.

In his book The Disciplined Life, Richard Shelley Taylor writes, Disciplined character belongs to the person who achieves balance by bringing all his faculties and powers under control … He resolutely faces his duty. He is governed by a sense of responsibility. He has inward resources and personal reserves which are the wonder of weaker souls. He brings adversity under tribute, and compels it to serve him. When adversity becomes too over-whelming and blows fall which he cannot parry, be bows to them, but is not broken by them. His spirit still soars.

Simply put, self-discipline is the willingness to subordinate personal desires and objectives to those that are selfless and divine, to subordinate that which is attractive and easy to that which is right and necessary. For the Christian, self-discipline is obedience to the Word of God, the willingness to subordinate everything in our lives—physical, emotional, social, intellectual, moral, and spiritual—to God’s will and control, and for God’s glory.

It is as absurd as it is unbiblical to believe that anyone can live a faithful, fruitful Christian life on mere good intentions and warm feelings for the Lord and His work. The Christian life is an accountable life, and, by definition, accountability is based on specific principles and standards. For the Christian, they are the divinely-revealed principles and standards to which God holds each of His children. It is because we are accountable that the Lord disciplines us when we disobey His Word and ignore His will.

“You have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,” the writer of Hebrews reminds us: “‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.’ It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? … All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:5-7, 11; cf. Prov. 3:11-12).

The nineteenth-century Englishman Robert C. Chapman wrote, “Seeing that so many preach Christ and so few live Christ, I will aim to live Him.” His good friend J. N. Darby said of him, “He lives what I teach.”

It was said of the popular nineteenth-century English author William Arnot, “His preaching is good. His writing is better. His living is best of all.” Would that it could be said of all Christians that their living is best of all.

A person who has been justifid by God’s grace, who has presented his body as “a living and holy sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1), and who is exercising the spiritual gifts the Lord has given him (vv. 3-8), will experience an outflowing of sanctified, spiritual living. In other words, a person who is saved will evidence his salvation by the way he lives. And because the obedient, disciplined, and productive Christian life is directed and empowered by God’s own Spirit, Christian living is supernatural living. In that sense, it is abnormal, unnatural living—living that is not natural to and cannot be attained by the unregenerate man.

Supernatural living is conducted “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). Supernatural living is “to have this attitude in [ourselves] which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5) and humbly to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). But the working out of our salvation is no more accomplished in our own power than the new birth was accomplished in our own power. “It is God who is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (2:13).

In short, supernatural living is conforming our outer lives to our inner lives, living out the redeemed, purified, and holy nature we have in Jesus Christ, becoming in practice what we are in position and new creation.

But supernatural living is not a mystical, undefined life based on elusive good impulses and sincere intentions. It is practical living that results from conscious obedience to God’s standards of righteousness, a life lived within divinely-ordained parameters. It is thinking, speaking, and acting in daily conformity with God’s Word and will.

Supernatural living is free in that it is no longer under the bondage of sin. But it also is enslaved, in that it is unalterably bound to the righteous will of God. “Thanks be to God,” Paul has declared earlier in this letter, “that though [we] were slaves of sin, [we] became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which [we] were committed, and having been freed from sin, [we] became slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18). With Martin Luther, every Christian should be able to say, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

Through Romans 12:8, Paul has laid the doctrinal foundation of the justified, sanctified, and dedicated Christian life. In the rest of the epistle, he focuses on specific ways in which believers must live their lives in obedience to God’s Word and to the glory of His name. The call to practical, holy living is the climax of this rich epistle.

In 12:9-21, Paul gives a comprehensive, but not exhaustive, list of the basic characteristics of the supernatural Christian life. In essence, he is giving the same admonition he had given to Corinthian believers a year or so earlier: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). It is because of all that God has done for us and all that He has equipped us with that we are to respond by faithful, obedient, Spirit-empowered living.

We are God’s “workmanship,” Paul explained to the church at Ephesus, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Salvation is designed to produce in us an unmistakable pattern of godly, righteous living. We will bear some fruit, but the Lord wants us to bear much fruit to his glory (John 15:8). All of these characteristics will be the desires of the inner new creation, and Paul urges believers to submit the flesh to these inner holy longings and to manifest these virtues as a regular pattern of life. These qualities are not foreign to our nature but to what we desire, so that, as our will submits to the Word and Spirit, the qualities become reality.

In the present text (12:9-21), Paul gives some twenty-five distinct but closely related exhortations. Any believer who honestly appraises his life by these standards cannot help being convicted of falling far short of the perfection the inner person desires. On the other hand, however, the believer who is walking in the Spirit will see the Spirit working out these precepts in his life to a greater and greater extent. An honest look at our lives in light of these precepts will bring conviction about our failure to keep some of them and confidence about our success in keeping others. Where we fall short, we should ask the Lord’s help. Where we have been faithful, we should give Him thanks and praise.

The specific exhortations fall under four general categories or phases, which form an ever-increasing circle, as it were, that expands from personal attitudes to the widest social applications. They are: personal duties (v. 9); family duties (vv. 10-13); duty to other people in general (vv. 14-16); and duty to those who are avowed personal enemies (vv. 17-21).

Personal Duties

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  (12:9)

In one of several triplets (see also vv. 11, 12, 16), Paul mentions three personal duties of supernatural living.

LOVE WITHOUT HYPOCRISY (12:9A)

The first duty is, Let love be without hypocrisy. The greatest virtue of the Christian life is love. The use of agapeô (love) was rare in pagan Greek literature, doubtless because the concept it represented—unselfish, self-giving, willful devotion—was so uncommon in that culture it was even ridiculed and despised as a sign of weakness. But in the New Testament it is proclaimed as the supreme virtue, the virtue under which all others are subsumed. Agapeô love centers on the needs and welfare of the one loved and will pay whatever personal price is necessary to meet those needs and foster that welfare.

Love is more important to a Christian than any spiritual gift he may have. “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three,” Paul explained to the Corinthian believers, “but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13; cf. 12:31). It is therefore not surprising that the first “fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22) and that it is by our love for our fellow believers that “all men will know that [we are Jesus’] disciples” (John 13:35). In behalf of the Thessalonian believers, Paul prayed, “May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another” (1 Thess. 3:12; cf. 1 John 3:18). Suffering “much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger,” Paul himself served the Lord’s people “in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love” (2 Cor. 6:4-6).

It is that same unfeigned love of one another that Peter admonishes all believers to exhibit: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22). Later in the same letter, the apostle repeats the command: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).

The love of which Paul, Peter, and John speak is genuine love, the sincere and fervent love that is completely without hypocrisy and untainted by self-centeredness. Christian love is pure, guileless, and unaffected.

Hypocrisy is the antithesis of and completely incompatible with agapeô love. The two cannot coexist. Hypocrisy is exceeded in evil only by unbelief. The consummate hypocrite in Scripture, Judas, was also the consummate egoist. He feigned devotion to Jesus to achieve his own selfish purposes. His hypocrisy
was unmasked and his self-centeredness was made evident when he betrayed Jesus for the thirty pieces of silver. Commenting on this verse in Romans, the theologian John Murray writes, “If love is the sum of virtue and hypocrisy is the epitome of vice, what a contradiction to bring the two together.”

Duty to the Family of God

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. (12:10-13)

The second phase of supernatural living concerns a wider dimension—largely pertaining to the believer’s duty to fellow members in the family of God.

BE DEVOTED IN BROTHERLY LOVE (12:10A)

Be devoted to and brotherly love carry synonymous ideas. Devoted translates philostorgos, a compound of philos (friend, friendly; friendship love) and storgeô (natural family love, which is not based on
personal attraction or desirability). Brotherly love translates philadelphia, another compound—phileoô (to have tender affection) and adelphos (brother). We are to have a loving filial affection for one another in the family of God.

Devoted … brotherly love is one of the marks by which the world will know that we belong to Christ. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This love is not optional for believers. It not only is required but is inescapable, because “whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him” (1 John 5:1). In fact, as John has just declared, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (4:20).

Brotherly love reflects the nature of Christians. That is why Paul could say, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9). Being “taught by God,” the true child of God knows intuitively that he is to love his spiritual brothers and sisters. For the very reason that God is our common heavenly Father, love for each other should be as natural and normal as family members’ affectionate love for each other.

The apostle John forcefully affirms that truth. “The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11). In the next chapter the apostle uses even stronger words: “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 … But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him” (1 John 3:10, 17-19).

PREFER ONE ANOTHER IN HONOR (12:10B)

If we are truly “devoted to one another in brotherly love,” it almost goes without saying that we will give preference to one another in honor. The virtue here is humility, not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Rom. 12:3). It is doing “nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind,” regarding “one another as more important than” oneself (Phil. 2:3).

Proeôgeomai (give preference) has the basic meaning of going before, or leading. But the idea here is not that of putting ourselves before others in regard to importance or worth but the very opposite idea of giving honor to fellow believers by putting them first.

To honor is not to flatter, to give hypocritical praise in hope of having the compliment returned or of gaining favor with the one honored. Again, the very opposite is in mind. To honor is to show genuine appreciation and admiration for one another in the family of God. We are to be quick to show respect, quick to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, quick to demonstrate genuine love by not being jealous or envious, which have no part in love, whether agapeô or philadelphia.

Do Not Lag in Diligence (12:11a)

Not lagging behind in diligence could be rendered, “not lazy in zeal and intensity.” A few verses earlier, Paul declares that the Christian who has the gift of ruling, or leading, should exercise it with diligence (v. 8).

In the context of Romans 12, diligence refers to whatever believers do in their supernatural living. Whatever is worth doing in the Lord’s service is worth doing with enthusiasm and care. Jesus told His disciples that He “must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work” (John 9:4). The Lord knew His time of ministry was limited and that every moment in His Father’s service on earth should count for the most possible. Paul admonished believers in the Galatian churches: “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10; cf. 2 Thess. 3:13).

There is no room for sloth and indolence in the Lord’s work. “Whatever your hand finds to do,” Solomon counseled, “verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol [the grave]” (Eccles. 9:10). Whatever we do for the Lord must be done in this present life.

Slothfulness in Christian living not only prevents good from being done but allows evil to prosper. “Therefore be careful how you walk,” Paul charged the Ephesians, “not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). “He also who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys” (Prov. 18:9). For weeds to prosper, the gardener need only leave the garden alone.

The Lord rewards those who serve Him with diligence. “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:10-12).

BE FERVENT IN SPIRIT (12:11B)

Whereas diligence pertains mainly to action, being fervent in spirit pertains to attitude. Literally, zeoô means to boil and metaphorically to be fervent. The idea here is not of being overheated to the point of boiling over and out of control but, like a steam engine, of having sufficient heat to produce the energy necessary to get the work done. That principle is reflected in the life of Henry Martyn, the tireless missionary to India, whose heart’s desire was to “burn out for God.”

One of the oldest blights on earth is lack of enthusiasm. Most people could make a sizable list of their failures that were simply casualties to indifference and lack of commitment. Fervency requires resolve and persistence, not mere good intention. “Let us not lose heart in doing good,” Paul admonishes, “for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9).

Even before he had a full understanding of the gospel, Apollos was “fervent in spirit, … speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus” (Acts 18:25). But no believer in the early church was more fervent in spirit, more indefatigable in the work of the Lord than Paul himself. “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim,” he said; “I box in such a way, as not beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:26); “And for this purpose also I labor” (Col. 1:29).

SERVE THE LORD (12:11C)

Like fervency in spirit, serving the Lord has to do with perspective and priority. Everything we do should, first of all, be consistent with God’s Word and, second, be truly in His service and to His glory. Strict devotion to the Lord would eliminate a great deal of fruitless church activity.

Paul never lost sight of that foundational mission. He begins this letter with the affirmation that he served God “in [his] spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son” (Rom. 1:9).

In Romans 12, Paul uses three different words to describe Christian service. In verse 1 he uses latreia, which is translated, “service of worship,” and emphasizes reverential awe. The second word is diakonia, which pertains to practical service. In verse 11, he uses douleuoô, which refers to the service of a bond-slave, whose very reason for existence is to do his master’s will.

Above all else, Paul considered himself a bond-slave of Jesus Christ. It is with that description that he first identifies himself in this letter (Rom. 1:1), as well as in Philippians (1:1) and Titus (1:1).

Yet we do not serve the Lord in our own power any more than we came to Him in our own power. Our supreme purpose is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and our power to fulfill that service is from Him. “For this purpose also I labor,” Paul testified, “striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:29).

Rejoice in Hope (12:12a)

Living the supernatural life inevitably brings opposition from the world and sometimes even sparks resentment by fellow Christians. Even after years of faithful service to the Lord, some see few, if any, apparent results from their labors. Without hope we could never survive. “For in hope we have been saved,” Paul has already explained, “but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Rom. 8:24-25).

Rejoicing in that hope, we know that, if we are “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” our “toil is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). We can therefore look forward to one day hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). We know that “in the future there is laid up for [us] the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to [us] on that day; and … to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

Persevere in Tribulation (12:12b)

It is because we can rejoice in hope that we also can persevere in tribulation, whatever its form or severity. Because we have perfect assurance concerning the ultimate outcome of our lives, we are able to persist against any obstacle and endure any suffering. That is why Paul could declare with perfect confidence that “we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:2-5).

BE DEVOTED TO PRAYER (12:12C)

Doubtless one of the reasons the Lord allows His children to go through tribulation is to drive them to Himself. The believer who has the strength to persevere in trials, afflictions, adversity, and misfortune—sometimes even
deprivation and destitution—will pray more than occasionally. He will be devoted to prayer, in communion with his Lord as a constant part of his life. So should we all be, no matter what the circumstances of our lives.

Proskartereoô (devoted) means literally to be strong toward something, and it also carries the ideas of steadfast and unwavering. It was with such devoted … prayer that early Christians worshiped, both before and after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14; 2:42). It was to enable the apostles to devote themselves “to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4) that deacons were first appointed in the church.

Devoted, steadfast prayer should be as continual a part of a Christian’s spiritual life as breathing is a part of his physical life. The victorious Christian prays “with the spirit and … with the mind” (1 Cor. 14:15). As he prays with his own spirit, he also prays “in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20; cf. Eph. 6:18). He prays “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Paul therefore admonished Timothy to have “the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands” (1 Tim. 2:8).

CONTRIBUTE TO THE NEEDS OF THE SAINTS (12:13A)

The next two principles Paul mentions in this list seem rather mundane. But they are qualities that the Lord personified during His earthly ministry and for which Paul himself was lovingly known. The flow of the supernatural life is outward, not inward, and meeting the needs of fellow believers is more important
than meeting our own.

Contributing is from koinoôneoô, which means to share in, or share with, and the noun koinoônia is often translated “fellowship” or “communion.” The basic meaning is that of commonality or partnership, which involves mutual sharing. The spirit of sharing was immediately evident in the early church, as believers after Pentecost “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship [koinoônia], to the breaking of bread and prayer … And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common [koina]” (Acts 2:42, 44; cf. 4:32). Peter used that term in speaking of our sharing [koinoôneoô] in “the sufferings of Christ” (1 Pet. 4:13).

But because the emphasis in the present text is on the giving side of sharing, the term is here rendered contributing. Paul also used a form of that word in the same sense when he admonished Timothy to “instruct those who are rich in this present world … to be generous and ready to share [koinoônikos]” (1 Tim. 6:17-18). In the eyes of society, we rightfully own certain things, but before the Lord we own nothing. We are simply stewards of what He has blessed us with. And one of our most important responsibilities as His stewards is using our personal resources to contribute to the needs of the saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made clear that we have a responsibility, to the best of our ability, to help anyone in need whom we encounter. But we have a still greater responsibility to serve fellow Christians.
“So then, while we have opportunity,” Paul says, “let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10).

Practice Hospitality (12:13b)

The last responsibility to fellow believers that Paul mentions in this list is that of practicing hospitality. The literal meaning of that phrase in the Greek is, “pursuing the love of strangers.” In other words, we not only are to meet the needs of those people, believers and unbelievers, who come across our paths but are to look for opportunities to help. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,” the writer of Hebrews admonishes us, “for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2).

In our text, Paul is speaking to all believers, but he also makes clear that leaders in the church should set an example by their own hospitality. Elders are to be “hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled” (Titus 1:8).

As with all virtues, this one must be exercised without hypocrisy or self-interest. Jesus’ admonition to His Pharisee host applies to all of His followers: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14).

Because inns in New Testament times were scarce, expensive, and often dangerous, Christian families commonly opened their homes to believers who passed through their towns. Unlike Paul, who insisted on paying for most of his own expenses, most itinerant preachers and teachers relied entirely on the support of fellow Christians. John commended Gaius for his generosity in this regard: “Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they bear witness to your love before the church; and you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth” (3 John 5-8).

We are to “be hospitable to one another without complaint,” Peter admonishes (1 Pet. 4:9). That is, we should look upon our hospitality as a happy privilege, not a drudging duty. Onesiphorus demonstrated that sort of beneficence in ministering to Paul, about whom the apostle wrote, “He often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me, and found me—the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day—and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus” (2 Tim. 1:16-18).

Love Or Death –1 John 3:11-24

(1 John 3:14-18 NIV)  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. {15} Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. {16} 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. {17} If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? {18} Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

John’s letter has been compared to a spiral staircase because he keeps returning to the same three topics: love, obedience, and truth. Though these themes recur, it is not true that they are merely repetitious. Each time we return to a topic, we look at it from a different point of view and are taken more deeply into it.

We have already learned about our love for other believers—“the brethren” (1 John 2:7-11)—but the emphasis in 1 John 2 was on fellowship. A believer who is “walking in the light” will evidence that fact by loving the brethren. In our present section, the emphasis is on his relationship with other believers.

Christians love one another because they have all been born of God, which makes them all brothers and sisters in Christ.

Obedience and love are both evidences of sonship and brotherhood. We have been reminded that a true child of God practices righteousness (1 John 3:1-10), and now we shall look into the matter of love for the brethren (1 John 3:11-24). This truth is first stated in the negative—”Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (1 John 3:10).

A striking difference should be noted between the earlier and the present treatment of love for the brethren. In the section on fellowship (1 John 2:7-11), we are told that loving the brethren is a matter of light and darkness. If we do not love one another, we cannot walk in the light, no matter how loud our profession. But in this section (1 John 3:11-24) on brotherhood, the epistle probes much deeper. We are told that loving the brethren is a matter of life and death. “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (1 John 3:14).

When it comes to this matter of love, there are four possible “levels of relationship,” so to speak, on which a person may live: murder (1 John 3:11-12), hatred (1 John 3:13-15), indifference (1 John 3:16-17), and Christian compassion (1 John 3:18-24).

The first two are not Christian at all, the third is less than Christian, and only the last is compatible with true Christian love.

Murder (1 John 3:11-12)

Murder, of course, is the lowest level on which one may live in relationship to someone else. It is the level on which Satan himself exists. The devil was a murderer from the beginning of his fallen career (John 8:44), but Christians have heard, from the beginning of their experience, that they are to “love one another.” John emphasizes origins: “Go back to the beginning.” If our spiritual experience originates with the Father, we must love one another. But if it originates with Satan, we will hate one another. “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning” (1 John 2:24).

Cain is an example of a life of hatred; we find the record in Genesis 4:1-16. It is important to note that Cain and Abel, being brothers, had the same parents, and they both brought sacrifices to God. Cain is not presented as an atheist; he is presented as a worshiper. And this is the point: children of the devil masquerade as true believers. They attend religious gatherings, as Cain did. They may even bring offerings. But these actions in themselves are not valid proof that a man is born of God. The real test is his love for the brethren—and here Cain failed.

Every man has a “spiritual lineage” as well as a physical, and Cain’s “spiritual father” was the devil. This does not mean, of course, that Satan literally fathered Cain. It means, rather, that Cain’s attitudes and actions originated with Satan. Cain was a murderer and a liar like Satan (John 8:44). He murdered his brother, and then he lied about it. “And the Lord said unto Cain, ‘Where is Abel thy brother?’ And he said, ‘I know not’” (Gen. 4:9).

In contrast to this, God is love (1 John 4:8) and truth (John 14:6; 1 John 5:6); therefore, those who belong to God’s family practice love and truth.

The difference between Cain’s offering and Abel’s offering was faith (Heb. 11:4), and faith is always based on the revelation God has given (Rom. 10:17). It seems clear that God must have given definite instructions concerning how He was to be worshiped. Cain rejected God’s Word and decided to worship in his own way. This shows his relationship to Satan, for Satan is always interested in turning people away from the revealed will of God. The devil’s “Yea, hath God said?” (Gen. 3:1) was the beginning of trouble for Cain’s parents and for all mankind since.

We are not told by what outward sign the Lord accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s. It may be that He sent fire from heaven to consume Abel’s sacrifice of an animal and its blood. But we are told the results: Abel went away from the altar with God’s witness of acceptance in his heart, but Cain went away angry and disappointed (Gen. 4:4-6). God warned Cain that sin was crouching at the door like a dangerous beast (Gen. 4:7) but promised that if Cain would obey God, he, like Abel, would enjoy peace.

Instead of heeding God’s warning, Cain listened to Satan’s voice and plotted to kill his brother. His envy had turned to anger and hatred. He knew that he was evil and that his brother was righteous. Rather than repent, as God commanded him to do, he decided to destroy his brother.

Centuries later, the Pharisees did the same thing to Jesus (Mark 15:9-10), and Jesus called them too children of the devil (John 8:44).

Cain’s attitude represents the attitude of the present world system (1 John 3:13). The world hates Christ (John 15:18-25) for the same reason Cain hated Abel: Christ shows up the world’s sin and reveals its true nature. When the world, like Cain, comes face-to-face with reality and truth, it can make only one of two decisions: repent and change, or destroy the one who is exposing it.

Satan is the “prince of this world” (John 14:30), and he controls it through murder and lies. How horrible to live on the same level as Satan!

A hunter took refuge in a cave during a rainstorm. After he had dried out a bit, he decided to investigate his temporary home and turned on his flashlight. Imagine his surprise when he discovered he was sharing the cave with an assortment of spiders, lizards, and snakes! His exit was a fast one.

If the unsaved world could only see, it would realize that it is living on the low level of murder and lies, surrounded by that old serpent Satan and all his demonic armies. Like Cain, the people of the world try to cover up their true nature with religious rites; but they lack faith in God’s Word. People who continue to live on this level will eventually be cast into outer darkness with Satan to suffer apart from God forever.

Hatred (1 John 3:13-15)

At this point, you are probably thinking, “But I have never murdered anyone!” And to this statement, God replies, “Yes, but remember that to a Christian hatred is the same as murder” (1 John 3:15; cf. Matt. 5:22). The only difference between Level 1 and Level 2 is the outward act of taking life. The inward intent is the same.

A visitor at the zoo was chatting with the keeper of the lion house. “I have a cat at home,” said the visitor, “and your lions act just like my cat. Look at them sleeping so peacefully! It seems a shame that you have to put those beautiful creatures behind bars.”“My friend,” the keeper laughed, “these may look like your cat, but their disposition is radically different. There’s murder in their hearts. You’d better be glad the bars are there.”

The only reason some people have never actually murdered anyone is because of the “bars” that have been put up: the fear of arrest and shame, the penalties of the law, and the possibility of death. But we are going to be judged by “the law of liberty” (James 2:12). The question is not so much, “What did you do?” but “What did you want to do? What would you have done if you had been at liberty to do as you pleased?” This is why Jesus equates hatred with murder (Matt. 5:21-26) and lust with adultery (Matt. 5:27-30).

This does not mean, of course, that hatred in the heart does the same amount of damage, or involves the same degree of guilt, as actual murder. Your neighbor would rather you hate him than kill him! But in God’s sight, hatred is the moral equivalent of murder, and if left unbridled it leads to murder. A Christian has passed from death to life (John 5:24), and the proof of this is that he loves the brethren. When he belonged to the world system, he hated God’s people; but now that he belongs to God, he loves them.

These verses (1 John 3:14-15), like those that deal with habitual sin in a believer (1 John 1:5-2:6), concern a settled habit of life: a believer is in the practice of loving the brethren, even though on occasion he may be angry with a brother (Matt. 5:22-24). Occasional incidents of anger do not nullify the principle. If anything, they prove it true, because a believer out of fellowship with his fellow Christians is a miserable person! His feelings make clear to him that something is wrong.

Notice another fact: we are not told that murderers cannot be saved. The Apostle Paul himself took a hand in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:57-60) and admitted that his vote helped to put innocent people to death (Acts 26:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:12-15). But in His grace God saved Paul.

The issue here is not whether a murderer can become a Christian, but whether a man can continue being a murderer and still be a Christian. The answer is no. “And ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). The murderer did not once have eternal life and then lose it; he never had eternal life at all.

The fact that you have never actually murdered anyone should not make you proud or complacent. Have you ever harbored hatred in your heart?

Hatred does the hater far more damage than it does anyone else (Matt. 5:21-26). Jesus said that anger put a man in danger of facing the local court. Calling a brother an “empty-headed fool” put him in danger of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish council. But calling him a “cursed fool” put him in danger of eternal judgment in hell. Hatred that is not confessed and forsaken actually puts a man into a spiritual and emotional prison! (Matt. 5:25)

The antidote for hatred is love. “Hateful and hating one another” is the normal experience of an unsaved person (Titus 3:3). But when a hateful heart opens to Jesus Christ, it becomes a loving heart. Then instead of wanting to “murder” others through hatred, one wants to love them and share with them the message of eternal life.

Indifference (1 John 3:16-17)

But the test of Christian love is not simply failure to do evil to others. Love also involves doing them good. Christian love is both positive and negative. “Cease to do evil; learn to do well” (Isa. 1:16-17).

Cain is our example of false love; Christ is the example of true Christian love. Jesus gave His life for us that we may experience truth. Every Christian knows John 3:16, but how many of us pay much attention to 1 John 3:16? It is wonderful to experience the blessing of John 3:16; but it is even more wonderful to share that experience by obeying 1 John 3:16: Christ laid down life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Christian love involves sacrifice and service. Christ did not simply talk about His love; He died to prove it (Rom. 5:6-10). Jesus was not killed as a martyr; He willingly laid down His life (John 10:11-18; 15:13). “Self-preservation” is the first law of physical life, but “self-sacrifice” is the first law of spiritual life.

But God does not ask us to lay down our lives. He simply asks us to help a brother in need. John wisely turns from “the brethren” in 1 John 3:16 to the singular, “his brother,” in 1 John 3:17.

It is easy for us to talk about “loving the brethren” and to neglect to help a single other believer. Christian love is personal and active.

This is what Jesus had in mind in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). A lawyer wanted to talk about an abstract subject: “Who is my neighbor?” But Jesus focused attention on one man in need, and changed the question to, “To whom can I be a neighbor?”

A man does not have to murder in order to sin; hatred is murder in his heart. But a man need not even hate his brother to be guilty of sin. All he has to do is ignore him, or be indifferent toward his needs. A believer who has material goods and can relieve his brother’s needs ought to do it. To “close the door of his heart” on his brother is a kind of murder!

If I am going to help my brother, I must meet three conditions. First, I must have the means necessary to meet his need. Second, I must know that the need exists. Third, I must be loving enough to want to share.

A believer who is too poor to help, or who is ignorant of his brother’s need, is not condemned. But a believer who hardens his heart against his needy brother is condemned. One reason Christians should work is so that they may be able “to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28).

In these days of multiplied social agencies, it is easy for Christians to forget their obligations. “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10, nasb).

This “doing good” need not be in terms of money or material supplies. It may include personal service and the giving of oneself to others. There are many individuals in our churches who lack love and would welcome friendship.

If we want to experience and enjoy the love of God in our own hearts, we must love others, even to the point of sacrifice. Being indifferent to a brother’s needs means robbing ourselves of what we need even more: the love of God in our hearts. It is a matter of love or death!

Christian Love (1 John 3:18-24)

True Christian love means loving in deed and in truth. The opposite of “in deed” is “in word,” and the opposite of “in truth” is “in tongue.” Here is an example of love “in word”:

“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled’; and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:15-16, nasb)

To love “in word” means simply to talk about a need, but to love “in deed” means to do something about meeting it. You may think, because you have discussed a need, or even prayed about it, that you have done your duty, but love involves more than words—it calls for sacrificial deeds.

To love “in tongue” is the opposite of to love “in truth.” It means to love insincerely. To love “in truth” means to love a person genuinely, from the heart and not just from the tongue. People are attracted by genuine love, but repelled by the artificial variety. One reason why sinners were attracted to Jesus (Luke 15:1-2) was because they were sure He loved them sincerely.

“But does it not cost a great deal for the believer to exercise this kind of love?”

Yes, it does. It cost Jesus Christ His life. But the wonderful benefits that come to you as by-products of this love more than compensate for any sacrifice you make. To be sure, you do not love others because you want to get something in return, but the Bible principle, “Give and it shall be given unto you” (Luke 6:38), applies to love as well as to money.

John names three wonderful blessings that will come to a believer who practices Christian love.

Assurance (vv. 19-20).

A believer’s relationship with others affects His relationship with God. A man who is not right with his brother should go settle the matter before he offers his sacrifice on the altar (cf. Matt. 5:23-24). A Christian who practices love grows in his understanding of God’s truth and enjoys a heart filled with confidence before God.

A “condemning heart” is one that robs a believer of peace. An “accusing conscience” is another way to describe it. Sometimes the heart accuses us wrongly, because it “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) The answer to that question is, “God knows the heart!” More than one Christian has accused himself falsely, or been harder on himself than necessary; but God will never make such a mistake. A Christian who walks in love has a heart open to God (“God is love”) and knows that God never judges wrongly.

John may have remembered two incidents from Jesus’ life on earth that illustrate this important principle. When Jesus visited Bethany, He stayed at the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was busy preparing the meal, but Mary sat at His feet and listened to Him teach. Martha criticized both Mary and Jesus, but Jesus knew Mary’s heart and defended her.

The Apostle Peter wept bitterly after he had denied his Lord, and no doubt he was filled with remorse and repentance for his sin. But Jesus knew that Peter had repented, and after His resurrection the Lord sent a special message (Mark 16:7) to Peter that must have assured the hot-headed fisherman that he was forgiven. Peter’s heart may have condemned him, for he knew he had denied the Lord three times, but God was greater than his heart. Jesus, knowing all things, gave Peter just the assurance he needed.

Be careful lest the devil accuse you and rob you of your confidence (Rev. 12:10). Once you confess your sin and it is forgiven, you need not allow it to accuse you anymore. Peter was able to face the Jews and say, “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just!” (Acts 3:14) because his own sin of denying Christ had been taken care of and was forgiven and forgotten.

No Christian should treat sin lightly, but no Christian should be harder on himself than God is. There is a morbid kind of self-examination and self-condemnation that is not spiritual. If you are practicing genuine love for the brethren, your heart must be right before God, for the Holy Spirit would not “shed abroad” His love in you if there were habitual sin in your heart. When you grieve the Spirit, you “turn off” the supply of God’s love (Eph. 4:30-5:2).

Answered prayer (vv. 21-22).

Love for the brethren produces confidence toward God, and confidence toward God gives you boldness in asking for what you need. This does not mean that you earn answers to prayer by loving the brethren. Rather, it means that your love for the brethren proves that you are living in the will of God where God can answer your prayer. “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments” (1 John 3:22). Love is the fulfilling of God’s Law (Rom. 13:8-10); therefore, when you love the brethren, you are obeying His commandments and He is able to answer your requests.

A believer’s relationship to the brethren cannot be divorced from his prayer life. If husbands and wives are not obeying God’s Word, for example, their prayers will be hindered (1 Peter 3:7).

One great secret of answered prayer is obedience, and the secret of obedience is love. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. . . . If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love” (John 15:7, 10).

It is possible, of course, to keep God’s commandments in a spirit of fear or servitude rather than in a spirit of love. This was the sin of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:24-32). A believer should keep His Father’s commandments because this pleases Him. A Christian who lives to please God will discover that God finds ways to please His child. “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Ps. 37:4). When our delight is in the love of God, our desires will be in the will of God.

Abiding (vv. 23-24).

When a scribe asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment, He replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” Then He added a second commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:34-40). But God also gives us one commandment that takes in both God and man: “Believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another” (1 John 3:23, nasb). Faith toward God and love toward man sum up a Christian’s obligations. Christianity is “faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6).

Faith toward God and love toward men are two sides of the same coin. It is easy to emphasize faith—correct doctrine—and to neglect love. On the other hand, some say doctrine is not important and that love is our main responsibility. Both doctrine and love are important. When a person is justified by faith, he should know that the love of God is being shed abroad in his heart (Rom. 5:1-5).

“Abiding in Christ” is a key experience for a believer who wants to have confidence toward God and enjoy answers to prayer. Jesus, in His message to the disciples in the Upper Room (John 15:1-14) illustrated “abiding.” He compared His followers to the branches of a vine. So long as the branch draws its strength from the vine, it produces fruit. But if it separates itself from the vine, it withers and dies.

Jesus was not talking about salvation; He was talking about fruit-bearing. The instant a sinner trusts Christ, he enters into union with Christ; but maintaining communion is a moment-by-moment responsibility. Abiding depends on our obeying His Word and keeping clean (John 15:3, 10).

As we have seen, when a believer walks in love, he finds it easy to obey God, and therefore he maintains a close communion with God. “If a man love Me, he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23).

The Holy Spirit is mentioned by name in 1 John for the first time in 3:24. John introduced us to the Holy One (1 John 2:20) with emphasis on the Spirit’s anointing and teaching ministry. (This parallels John 14:26; 16:13-14.) But the Holy One is also the abiding Spirit (1 John 3:24; 4:13). When a believer obeys God and loves the brethren, the indwelling Holy Spirit gives him peace and confidence. The Holy Spirit abides with him forever (John 14:16), but when the Spirit is grieved, He withdraws His blessings.

The Holy Spirit is also the attesting Spirit (1 John 4:1-6), giving witness to those who are truly God’s children. When a believer is abiding in Christ, the Spirit guides him and warns him of false spirits that would lead him astray.

He is also the authenticating Spirit (1 John 5:6-8), bearing witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ. This witness of the Spirit is mentioned in Romans 8:14-16.

Each member of the Triune Godhead is involved in the “love life” of a believer. God the Father commands us to love one another, God the Son gave His life on the cross, the supreme example of love. And God the Holy Spirit lives within us to provide the love we need (Rom. 5:5). To abide in love is to abide in God, and to abide in God is to abide in love. Christian love is not something we “work up” when we need it. Christian love is “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit,” and this is your constant experience as you abide in Christ.

There are four levels on which a person may live. He may choose the lowest level—Satan’s level—and practice murder. Murderers “have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).

Or, a person may choose the next level—hatred. But hatred, in God’s sight, is the same as murder. A man who lives with hatred is slowly killing himself, not the other person! Psychiatrists warn that malice and hatred cause all kinds of physical and emotional problems. In fact, one specialist has entitled his book Love or Perish!

The third level—indifference—is far better than the first two, because the first two are not Christian at all. A man who has constant hatred in his heart, or who habitually murders, proves he has never been born of God. But it is possible to be a Christian and be indifferent to the needs of others.

A man who murders belongs to the devil, like Cain. A man who hates belongs to the world (1 John 3:13), which is under Satan’s control. But a Christian who is indifferent is living for the flesh, which serves Satan’s purposes.

The only happy, holy way to live is on the highest level, the level of Christian love. This is the life of joy and liberty, the life of answered prayer. It assures you confidence and courage in spite of the difficulties of life.

Dr. Rene Spitz of New York made a study of children in foundling homes to determine what effect love and neglect had on them. The survey proved that children who were neglected and unloved were much slower in their development, and some of them even died. Even in a physical sense, love is the very atmosphere of life and growth.

It is even more so in the spiritual sense. In fact, it is a matter of love or death.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2016 in Doctrine

 

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