Love Letters: God is Light II
Pastor Terry Inman
1 John 2.3-14 (NIV)
Last week we kicked off a new study of the three letters of John. The Gospel of John is his first hand account of the life and ministry of Jesus. The Apostle John refers to himself as the disciple Jesus loved.
There is evidence of his closeness to Jesus in the crucifixion. From the cross Jesus put John in charge of his mother’s care. The gospel written early in John’s life was directed primarily to unbelievers. These three letters of John written in his elder years are focused on the Church. He addresses the church as “Dear Children”. This is like a letter to the family.
John is very concerned about an emerging controversy that denied Jesus’ humanity and deity. These false teachers claimed that Jesus came only in spirit and did not really come in the flesh or rise from the dead. Faith for this cult was only mystical and did not affect their physical or mental life.
Last week in chapter one John began with vibrant clarity concerning the nature of God; God is Light. To know him and follow His son Jesus Christ is to walk in the light.
Now in chapter two John expands on this. “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says,
“I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. 1 John 2:3-6 (NIV)
John says three things here. To know him is to obey him. To know him is to love him and to know him is to follow him. To walk in the light is to live out the life of Jesus.
In the mid-seventies I was riding in the dome car of an Amtrak train on one of our treks from Nebraska to California to see grandpa and grandma. A young student on her way back to Berkeley was sitting next to me. She was clearly a hippie, no shoes, no shower, need I say more?
When she learned I was a Pastor she told me she had some close friends that were very-loving people. She didn’t know what church they were part of but they told her they were “just living out the message of Christ”.
Walking in the Light according to John is living out the life of Jesus.
Gnosticism was a heresy beginning to affect the church at that time. It comes from the Greek notion of (gnosis) Greek for “knowledge”
Knowledge of God, according to the Gnostics, came through “mystical insights or revelations” but John is much more pragmatic. He basically says you only know God if you’re doing what God says and does.
For John knowledge of God is not merely academic, theoretical, or speculative but practical and experiential. If we believe in Jesus we will behave like Jesus! Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 1 Cor. 8:1(NIV)
According to John claiming to know God while being disobedient to his commandments is living a lie. But conformity with his word is living in love! If anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.
The term “made complete” (Gr:teleioo ) carries with it the idea of continuous growth and development. It describes both a state and process of growth. As we practice obedience God’s love matures in us!John says those who walk-the-talk are the ones who really “know Jesus”. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (v. 6) Walk here is much like the expression walk of life.
Relationship with Jesus requires a lifestyle worthy of Jesus. Obviously we can’t measure up to Jesus but the more we love him and the more we conform to his life and teachings the more we think and act like him.
Then John says, this is not really anything new. He is not laying on some extra burden to faith. Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 1 John 2:7 (NIV)
The old command is the familiar greatest commandment…
Love the Lord your Godwith all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27 (NIV)
However in some ways, John says, this may be new to some. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 1 John 2:8 (NIV)
John is referring to Jesus’ fresh application of this old command. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)What’s new about this is that our love for God and one another is based on our relationship with Jesus. Again it’s not just theoretical its relational.
Love for God according to John can only be measured by love for others. “True love” is not some kind of romantic fantasy about Jesus. Darkness is passing and light is gaining because of the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.
Knowing God and loving God and one another go hand in hand with John. He continues to refute the claim of these teachers that you could theoretically “know God” without any relevance to human relationships. We would call it head knowledge not heart knowledge of God.
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. 1 John 2:9-11 (NIV)
Hate is the absence of love. To walk in the light is to love one’s brother. God’s love expresses itself in tangible actions. Love unexpressed is not love at all. Love is not neutral. When it is absent, hate is present.
My brother in law Dick Foth defines it this way, “Love is the accurate estimate and adequate supply of another’s need.” Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
When we fail to love our brothers and sisters we are in danger of hate. Love according to John is a manifestation of God’s light. “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light!”
We think of hate as some strong animosity but according to John it can simply be the failure to love. If we routinely neglect to love our brothers we are not living in light but groping around aimlessly in the dark. We are self-absorbed and vision-less.
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in needbut has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 1 John 3:17 (NIV)
So according to the disciple Jesus loved, to live without loving one’s brother is, to live in total meaninglessness. We are denying our self the presence of God and the reality of fellowship with the brothers.
In verse seven you get a sense of this Apostolic Father’s love and concern. I mentioned earlier that He addresses his readers as “Dear Friends”. Now he gets even more intimate. He pleads almost poetically with the generations coming behind him. Both the young and old are the recipients of his loving counsel.
I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 1 John 2:12 (NIV) These children could be kids or more than likely new followers of Jesus. He wants them to have the assurance that their confession of sin has resulted in forgiveness and freedom. They are now part of God’s family.
Sometimes it takes a while to feel the assurance of our salvation but in Chapter 5 John makes this very clear. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13 (NIV) We can know for certain!
Next John address fathers, those more mature in the faith.
I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. 1 John 2:13 (NIV)
These are the fathers of the faith. They have known Jesus who again John says “is from the beginning”.
This is a reference to the Son’s pre-existence with the Father. He is commending these Fathers for holding on to the historic faith concerning Jesus Christ. He came in the flesh, he rose again and will one day return!
The young men are commended for overcoming the evil one. The first challenge in our new faith is assurance of salvation. The next challenge is success over sin and Satan. One is assurance the other is authority.
As we grow in our faith we gain confidence that we can overcome the work of the enemy. “You, dear children, are from God and have overcomethem, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4 (NIV) Then John pens a second round of conversation with the family. “I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.” 1 John 2:13(NIV)This is a great complement, these new believers knew God and were obeying God. They were already living in the light!
He repeats his word to the elders. “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.” And then he elaborates on how the younger believers overcome. “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” John 2:14 (NIV)
Two things are added to his first word to the younger believers. Here he says they are strong and the word of God is alive in them. That is what gives them the power to overcome the evil one.This reminds me of John’s last words in the book of Revelations. “They overcamehim by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” Rev. 12:11(NIV)
Testimonies are success stories. They are evidence that we have passed our tests. It was the word of God that Jesus used to overcome the temptations of the Devil in wilderness.
Tests, trials and temptations can strengthen our faith. In the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation Jesus says, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcameand sat down with my Father on his throne.” Rev. 3:21 (NIV)
You may consider your self a child in this spiritual journey. Maybe you’re still struggling with the assurance that you are truly part of God’s family.
Maybe you have been following him a while but rather than overcoming you feel a bit overcome. Maybe your still struggling with some life-style changes.Then there are many here who are mature. You have a strong faith. You have been through a lot but it has strengthened you.That’s great but sometimes its easy to then lay back and feel like we have arrived. But there’s more. God wants us to take on new challenges. He wants us to save the lost and serve the saved!
It’s not what “we are believing” that will change this community its what “we are doing” that will change this community!