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Fall Quarter: Love for One Another
Unit 3: Godly Love Among Believers
Sunday school lesson for the week of Nov. 15, 2020
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Background Scripture: 1 John 3: 11-24; 2 John 4-11; 3 John 5-8
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 3:24)
- In this lesson, we learn the various ways and means Jesus teaches us to love fellow believers.
- We will examine Jesus’ claim that the world will hate Christians.
- We will understand the need for an accountability partner to help keep God’s command to love.
John has become one of the elders in the early church. Though he was a few years younger than some of the other disciples, he is now an elder, not only in age, but in wisdom, love, and in possessing a meaningful relationship with Jesus. John’s Gospel and epistles were probably written sometime between 80-100 AD. Still, it is important to remember that Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection occurred around 33 AD. That means John is now older in age. We can also understand John better when we remember that he understands how the gospel relates to the Greek culture which is philosophical and highly values wisdom.
With astounding speed, the power of the gospel moved into and transformed the surrounding Greek world. Paul especially had to be an amazing teacher, but it is more likely that it was the message Paul preached that had the most effect.
Try this exercise to gain a sense of Christianity’s power as it moves from Israel into Asia Minor
: Imagine you are called to the task of entering a totally different culture that worshiped a variety of gods. Those you are called to convert know little about Judaism, and the O.T. is available and kept by the rabbis in the synagogues. The common person in the Greek world does not have access to Jewish scripture. You join Paul and the early church apostles in realizing the most effective evangelistic tool is the gospel itself. The gospel changed the hearts of the first Christians and empowered them to walk with Jesus spiritually. Some had actually walked with Jesus prior to the resurrection. Therefore, you, from a Jewish culture and a new Christian, are to convert Greeks who live before you as a blank slate regarding the Mosaic Law and the idea of a messiah. You must not only allow the gospel to speak to their hearts, but also capture their philosophical interests. After conversion, you are to ground them in their new faith by teaching in their homes or available room. Thus allowing the church to spread throughout the Greek world.
This was the calling of the apostles. Paul especially was the most effective as an evangelist of the early church. Now John, who is an elder statesman when writing the epistles, has been engaged in such evangelism for years and quickly began to understand the way Greeks looked at life, the world, and religion. He becomes influential in the Greek world and church. The opening chapter of John’s Gospel reveals just how powerfully he understood the perspective Greek’s held in thinking about religion and philosophy. John was able to allow the Holy Spirit to bridge the divide between the two cultures. Even with few writings beginning to spread throughout world, mostly Paul’s letters, and with the oral teachings of Jesus later becoming the Gospel of Mark, Christianity rang so true and was so transforming the church quickly spread. As the Holy Spirit changed hearts throughout Asia Minor, a cohesiveness developed. Later a hierarchy would form to help the early churches.
Christianity meant owning a vital relationship with Jesus Christ. The Christian life grew from the strong moral roots of Judaism and the Mosaic Law. However, it embraced the one law that gave meaning to all others, and that Jesus called “the Law of laws.” This law was the Shema from Deut. 6. Thus, living in a godly manner was an important dynamic in the early churches. Many were just developing concepts of sin and determining what was right and wrong. Consequently, the understanding of forgiveness, grace, joy and especially love in life spread with great power and influence. The human mind had slowed in the Greek world in its ability to influence culture. It was still important. When we read John’s Gospel, we begin to understand that philosophy could become part of the Shema’s requirement to “love God with all our mind.” Several passages from this particular gospel give the reader a sense that one can use their mind as an instrument of God’s love. Science was altering the world’s view of the universe, and philosophers like Plato created an environment to explore meaning, purpose, and wonder. However, the human heart, whether Jewish or Greek, longed for a reality deeper, stronger with great substance and meaning. The world needed to know another reality existed, greater than this one. The church helped the culture create a moral framework. Yet, it also helped the culture began to connect faith, wisdom, and truth, for all existed in Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit touched hearts with God’s love and all of life began to take on more purpose and cohesiveness.
False Teaching, Sects, and Other Religions
Christianity and its community of faith, the church, did not take root in a religious vacuum. There were competing religions. The religious entities that most threatened the early church were false teachers. These teachers often gained tremendous power over others. The most unsettling growth in the teaching of these false teachers was their attempt to blend Christianity with their teaching. The Gnostics were just beginning to have effect. Then there were those early Christians who loved their life of depravity and Christianity threatened to reveal the destructive nature of a sinful life. Also, the light of Christianity began to expose the darkness lurking in certain sects. If one allowed themselves to entertain Christianity as true, they found it difficult to keep embracing gods of wood and stone, falsehood and a sinful life. Many did not like the crowning ethic that Jesus embodied, taught and died to reveal love, especially unconditional love. For love called one to love God, and love another as their own self.
Are there threats to Christianity today? Can you identify some and why you believe they are threatening? How do you expose these threats without losing your power to love?
Power of Love
John never lost the reality that Jesus was love and loved others regardless of gender, ethnicity and class. He also began to understand Christ was willing to give his life to reveal just how far God’s love would go to bring one into the kingdom. His gospel gave us the great verse most have heard, and Christians revere: For God so loved the world he gave us his only son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
(John 3:16). Even when confronting false religions and sects, he did so in love. In 1 John 3: 11 he writes, “This is the message you have heard from the beginning; you should love one another.” For John also never forgot one of the fundamental truths of their faith in Christ. Faith and works are interconnected and complimentary as are grace and works. Paul and James created strong theological statements about the need for both to coexist to adequately understand and live out Christianity.
Apart from the Holy Spirit, some in the early church might have attempted to make the church another branch of Judaism, one that had found Messiah. However, the Holy Spirit and the inner integrity of the apostles ensured that the church would embody Jesus. If the church embodied Jesus, one was embodying the deepest experience of love, and morality became the instrument through which the Christian gave substance and validity to the faith. They understood Christianity was moral, but must not become a legalistic sect. Again, early Christians did not have one sacred Bible they used for personal growth and evangelism. They learned of Jesus from a relationship with Jesus, and the apostles. The Holy Spirit gave them the gift of assurance that they were children of God through the love of Jesus, with whom they walked spiritually and morally through life.
The World and Hatred
When John wrote of “the world” in his epistles he was not speaking of a geographical area. He is referring to the geographical world of lands and people in John 3:16. However, in his epistles the world was a dark, sinful entity. It was that realm where sin is promoted, embraced and unleashes its destructive power. It transcended geographical boundaries and populaces. This is why John wanted the reader to understand that “the world” would hate the Christian and the Church. They by nature have opposing foundations. They are oil and water. There can be no coexistence. The world will exist until Jesus brings in the Kingdom of God in its fullness. But Christianity will always possess more power than the world. It will always have more power for it is based on truth, light and love; and we have the greatest expression of God in Jesus. in Jesus. “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”
Hate is the dark, deadly spirit of the world. Thus, when Christians hate one another, or anyone, they are attempting to enjoy the benefit one has in Christ, but they are living in allegiance to the opposing power. The contradiction is easily seen and its ability to hurt becomes easily obvious. Jesus allowed no room for hate in life or the heart. When he would bring in the Kingdom, the world would fall to the power of God’s love in Christ. It is this love that gives life, whereas hate takes life. John uses the O.T. story of Cain killing his own brother Abel as the way the church appears when it attempts to walk in Christ while drawing life away from fellow Christians through hatred. Notice in his use of Cain and Abel to contrast love and hatred, the earliest Christians were Jewish and allowed the important threads of Judaism to continue to live in the church. All of the apostles and the early leadership were Jewish. Many of the early converts were initially Jewish. Though there was no single bible for several years in the first churches, they were learning from O.T. Jewish oral traditions. O.T. stories, psalms and poems were still alive and used by the earliest evangelists and teachers in Greek environments.
Almighty God, we give thanks for the apostles and those who gifted us with writings which became our Bible. Thank you for the love we have experienced in Jesus, and for the meaning and strength we find in all relationships. Thank you for the high price the early church paid to place within our hands and hearts the sacred, the holy, and divine love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.