Chapter 3.11-24 - The Life of Love
In these verses, we are brought face to face with the question of love in our lives. This matter has some very serious challenges which we need to bring to bear on our lives in order to ensure that we are consistent with what we profess in our teaching.
1. Love that separates us from the world (vv.11-13)
John now reminds us of the commandment to love one another. It is a commandment that we have known from the first. Love was the basis of the Law (Mt 22.37-39). It was also the new commandment that the Lord gave to His own in the upper room before He went out to the cross. This has a very searching challenge for our hearts as we consider the testimony to our Lord in the world today. As John writes, he speaks of our relationship with every fellow member in the family of God. This is not limited to the local assembly, or to those who meet in similar companies. We should have the same love for every fellow believer. It may be that we are not free to join them in every place where they go, or in every work that they undertake, but this should not limit our love for them.
The truth is underlined by reference to Cain and Abel. Here are the first two brothers in the history of mankind, and they demonstrate the two characters that have been seen ever since that day. Cain is a man of the flesh, marked by sin and refusal of the claims of God. Abel is a spiritual man who is marked by righteousness and obedience to the desires of God. The flesh and the spirit are always in opposition to each other. There is no common ground. The one seeks everything for its own satisfaction, the other gives no thought for self, but yields all to the Lord. The result is that there is a conflict that can never be resolved.
It is to be expected that the world will hate us because it hated our Lord. We are living in days when there is much talk about getting alongside the people. We need to realise that this will be an impossibility as long as we are true to our Lord. If we take our rightful place alongside our Lord, then we will quickly find that the world will not want us. We must live in the light of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we must remember that, just because other believers do not meet with us, it does not mean that they are any more part of the world than we are. We ought to encourage them in the Lord for their good. They are as much a brother or sister in the Lord as those who gather with us. It may be that the Lord will reward this by opening their eyes to see the truth of gathering to His Name, but that should not be the reason for our actions.
2. Love as an evidence of real life (vv.14-15)
These verses bring us to consider the solemn challenge that love for our fellow saints is an evidence of life. John spells out the fact that if we do not love our brother, then we are abiding in death. While we cannot condone false doctrine, or compromise on what we know to be right according to the Word of God, we must be equally careful to avoid allowing bitterness to creep into our dealings with our brethren. It is sad that some would imply that there are degrees of love which we can show to others. It is clear here that we either love or we do not love. If we love our brother, then we have the assurance of life in us. If we do not love our brother then we are not living in a right spirit.
John takes up the teaching of the Lord in Matthew 5.22. It is very solemn to see the way in which anger is equated to murder. The reason is simple. The first murder was committed as a result of anger being stored up in the heart of Cain. Many examples have followed since that day, perhaps never more clearly than when the Lord was taken by His people and crucified. Such an attitude is completely against the character of our Lord which we are called to show in our lives. It may be that we can speak well of the things which we believe, or even do things which may pass as behaviour consistent with a believer, but we need to remember that "the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Sam 16.7). Whether we are looking at the profession of faith, or at our own progress, we need to ensure that this is paramount in our thinking. If we do not, we may either be guilty of pride in our own supposed achievements, or of failing to appreciate true spirituality.
3. Love in deed rather than in word (vv.16-20)
This section begins with a reminder of the love of God as seen in our Lord Jesus Christ. The fact that the words, "of God", are in italics emphasises that the reference to laying down His life does refers to our Lord. As He moved in this world, He showed the love of God in all its fullness. The challenge here is that we are called to show that same love in our lives.
There are two examples of love in these verses. The first is that we should lay down our lives for our brother. This is a solemn challenge. The real meaning of this is that we can never be asked to do too much for another believer. Once again, this is a pattern that extends to every fellow-believer, not just those with whom we are in fellowship in the assembly.
The second example of love is that we should never refuse to give to our brother anything which he needs when we have it in our possession. In the early days of the Church, everyone sold their possessions, and brought the proceeds into a common fund, so that no one laid personal claim to anything. This is the principle that the Holy Spirit is demanding here through John. We have nothing of our own; everything belongs to the Lord and is therefore available for the use of His people. If we refuse to give to our brother when he is in need, then we are proving that the love of God is not controlling our lives.
The effect of obedience to this is that we receive in our own hearts the confirmation that we are of the truth. Although it is never wise to trust in feelings, the Lord graciously grants us encouragement when we are faithful to Him, and living for His pleasure. We can always rest in the assurance that God knows the reality, even if we see the failings in our lives.
4. Love as the source of answered prayer (vv.21-24)
The closing verses of the chapter bring before us a final encouragement. If our heart is right before God, and we are living with a clear conscience, then we can come into the presence of God with confidence that our requests will be in line with His desires. The reason for prayers being answered is not that we are better than others, but that our heart is right, and therefore we shall only make requests that are consistent with the heart of God. This is the reality of asking "in His Name". David clearly states the opposite side of this when he says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Ps 66.18).
The commandments which we are to keep are two. We are living in days when doctrines are promoted as the evidence of faithfulness. The Word of God is clear at all times. The two requirements of the believer are faith and love. If we are true in these respects, then we shall enjoy the presence of the Lord in our lives. If we fail in these respects, then no amount of obedience to other commandments will ever warrant the enjoyment of this portion.
We do well to consider our lives in the light of these verses. We may speak of our love for our Lord and His Word, but does our profession stand the test of the Word of God. Let us take care never to be content with anything less than the fullness of all that our Lord desires for us. Let us be equally careful never to be tempted to displace the reality of a life of fellowship with our Lord by giving undue importance to any single aspect of the truth of God at the expense of any other.
To be continued.