Love One Another
Sunday school lesson for the week of April 12, 2015
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson scripture: 1 John 3:11-24
What is the measure of a person’s life? Is it age? Is it wealth? Is it success? What? The author of John’s letter indicates that believers’ lives are calculated by their faith in Christ and their love for one another.
Our scripture lesson today stresses the importance of loving our fellow Christians. This sounds rather trite, something we’ve heard before, but it is not always as easy as it sounds.
In 1 John, the writer is not addressing a church where everything is going well. The church has actually experienced a split. There has been some false teaching about the nature of Christ’s presence in the world. And, of course, the dispute has led to tension, even a split, with those who have remained faithful to the apostolic teaching. For those left in the church, the question has become, do those who advocate a harmful view of the nature of Christ’s presence in the world still have a relationship with God? In all of this, John is moved to speak about the importance of love.
In the verses immediately preceding our scripture lesson, John has talked about how to distinguish between the children of God and those of the devil. Our lesson continues that discussion by talking about the characteristics of children of God. At this point, John pulls no punches. He makes it clear that each individual must decide whether to be a child of God or of the devil. Here, John is pointing out how critically important it is to love one another even in the midst of dissension.
Scholars point out that verse 11 begins with an intentional echo of the first verse of 1 John:1. Chapter 1 talks about the teaching about Christ that has been in the church since the beginning, chapter 3 reminds readers of the command that has been with the church just as long. The command is that they are to love one another. Beyond believing the right things about Christ, those who are children of God must also love their fellow Christians.
So loving one another should always be a distinguishing attribute of the church. Without love, even being right is less significant. We are being told that the only alternative to manifesting love that John allows is that these church folks hate their brothers and sisters. Those who hate, John says, belong in the same category as murderers.
The alternative that John allows to love is being like Cain, the one who murdered his brother in Genesis 4. The Christian must not be like Cain who murdered his brother. Anyone who acts like Cain is acting out of a heart of hatred, and that hatred is of the devil.
John then moves on to ask why Cain murdered his brother. His answer is that Cain slew his brother because his works were evil and his brother's works were righteous.
Next, John says, “Don't be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you” (3:13). The late William Barclay states that righteousness always provokes hostility in the minds of those whose actions are basically evil. The reason is that the life of the good person passes a silent judgement on the life of the evil person. Consequently, the hatred of the world for the Christian is due to the fact that the worldly person sees in the Christian the condemnation of himself/herself.
John advises believers to be prepared. He says that in spite of this opposition they must cultivate love among themselves because that is the sign that they now possess God’s life in them. Those without love remain “in death” (3:14). They have not received the life of salvation. Thus, John stresses the necessity of love by making the point that the alternative to love is being guilty of murder – and murderers face God’s condemnation.
Following the example of Christ’s love
After hearing about John’s harsh alternative to love, the people of the church may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. How can anyone be expected to do what John demands – to love “in spite of?” Answering his own question, John simply reminds these church people that they themselves have already been the recipients of the same kind of love he calls them to embody. The incredible love to which God calls this church has been earlier exemplified for them in Christ. Christ loved them so much that he gave his life for them. So, for John and those left in the church, Christ had a real bodily form. Therefore, the death he died was a painful death. There simply cannot be a more radical example of love.
A retiring minister in our Conference spoke of having had a heart transplant. He concluded with these words, “There is nothing like knowing that you are alive because somebody else died.” In the larger context, there really is nothing like knowing that we are alive because Jesus Christ died for us and our world.
So, given that those in the early church have been loved in this way, they should respond by showing the same kind of love to each other. In John 3:16 of our lesson scripture, John says, “This is how we know love; Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Thus, if we follow the example of Christ, we will show love before the other person even gives a hint of desiring to restore the relationship.”
Where the rubber of love hits the road
In the midst of terrible tension and conflict, John demands that this church live out the kind of love that had been seen in Christ. But the discussion takes a surprising and somewhat uncomfortable turn. John says in verse 17, “But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn't care – how can the love of God remain in him?”
Want to know how the church is to live out its willingness to die for one another? Basically, it’s by sharing one’s wealth!
Now, scholars inform us that this church has all kinds of people in it – slaves, slave owners, fairly wealthy business people, and people whose children go to bed hungry. How does love look in such a church? John says or demands that the wealthy share what they have to relieve the burdens of the poor. Do we see it? The radical nature of John’s demand to be willing to die for fellow Christians is centrally demonstrated by sharing one’s wealth. The love John sees as a necessary mark of being a Christian is to share financial means with those who need help. And verse 18 sums up our Christian duty to love. John says, “Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.”
The late Bishop Robert Goodrich once told of a man who knelt at the altar and prayed for a friend. “O Lord, help my friend, help him, Lord, before it’s too late. Touch him, Lord, touch him even if just with your finger.”
Then it was almost as if he heard the voice of God whispering back in his ear, “You touch him, you are my finger.”
Comforted by God’s presence
John says that if we keep the love command in both what we say and how we respond to the needs of others we can have a clear conscience before God. No matter our thoughts about it, keeping this command is ample evidence to assure us that we are counted among God’s people. Hear this again: living out the love seen in Christ by sharing one’s possessions is sufficient evidence that the person belongs to God. And this is the judgment of God that always exceeds our consciences.
As John summarizes his message in verse 23, his instructions come down to two things: believe in Christ and love one another. As scholars inform us, these are related commands because John had said that we know how to love because of the example Christ has given us. John goes on and points out that those who obey these commands live in God and God lives in them.
So, what grand encouragement for Christians! Christians are not simply mandated to show love on their own. They are empowered by the Spirit of God to be loving people. They are not only inspired by God, but God is the very environment in which they live. Thus, God surrounds them with his presence and enables them to know love and then to show love.
So, I ask again, what is the measure of a person’s life? Is it age? Is it wealth? Is it success? What? The author of John’s letter indicates that believers’ lives are calculated by their faith in Christ and their love for one another.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.