1 John – To love or not to love, that is the question!

Spoiler alert for those who haven’t watched the movie Captain America: The Winter Solider. In the show, the main villain (The Winter Soldier) was actually a good guy named Bucky in the past. Bucky was presumed dead while he was on mission with Captain America many years ago. But he had actually been captured by the bad guys and transformed into this superhuman creation like Captain America. So in the movie, they do battle. Captain America sincerely believed he could reach out to Bucky and in the end, it seemed he did manage to break through to him. The Winter Soldier, instead of killing Captain America, actually pulled him out of the waters to safety. In the closing scene in the movie, Bucky is seen at a museum trying to discover his past and true identity. Now I want you to imagine if he remembers all he did as a villain. We wouldn’t be surprised if he suffered a decent amount of regret, knowing how much evil, suffering and death he had caused.

In the same way, we must know our true identity as Christians and therefore live our lives consistent with who we are as Christians. If we don’t know whether we’re truly Christians and if we don’t live our lives as Christians, at the end of our lives… we will suffer real regret (even eternal regret).

[PRAY]

We are in the sermon series on the epistle of 1 John. In this epistle, one of the apostle John’s chief concerns is a false teaching about Jesus Christ and John writes to exhort believers to know the truth about their faith, to stand firm in their faith, and to live out their faith. How can we know we are true Christians? 1 John tells us. Found throughout the book of 1 John are these statements “By this we know…” and “We know… by this…” (1 John 2:3; 2:5; 3:16; 3:19; 3:24; 4:6; 4:13; 5:2).

All these statements can be summed up in 3 tests:

  1. Doctrinal Test – Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?
  2. Moral Test – Do you obey God’s commands?
  3. Love Test – Do you love God’s people?

One place where we can see these 3 elements come together is 1 John 3:22-23 “… we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.”

Believe in Jesus. Keep God’s commandments. Love one another. 3 tests to know whether we are true Christians. In the passage we are covering today, we are going to focus on the Love Test. 3 things I want to say about the Love Test today:

  1. The Commandment to Love
  2. The Commandment not to Love
  3. The Confidence of the Beloved

 

1. The Commandment to Love (v. 7-11)

1John 2:7   Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 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.

First, let’s ask ourselves this question, what is this commandment that the apostle John is referring to? It is called the “old commandment” so it refers back to the Old Testament. You think about the Old Testament, you think about the Ten Commandments. What are the Ten Commandments? What are they about? Basically, Jesus summed them up in this way, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Therefore, it is a commandment to love. Christians, love one another! This should not surprise us, it is nothing new.

The Old Testament has had a bad reputation of late. Some Christians and some churches would call it legalistic, moralistic. But from the beginning of God’s revelation, the law of love was taught, because the law is an expression of the character and nature of the Law-Giver, who is love. God is love and He commands us, as believers, as Christians to love. We do this not so in order that God might love us, but because He already does. “We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19.

And yet, there is something new about this ‘Love commandment’ that the apostle John talks about. v. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him…

What does John mean? You see, when Jesus of Nazareth walked the face of the earth some 2000 years ago, it was the only period in history where perfect love lived among us. Jesus lived the perfect life of love, and He died a sinner’s death on the Cross for our sins, demonstrating how much He loved us.

This reminds me of the story of a girl who once asked her boyfriend, “Do you love me?” And he answered, “Of course!” And she said, “Will you be willing to die for me?” To which he replied, “No.” The girl gets upset, “But you said you loved me!” “Yah, mine is an undying love.” Jesus was a dying love. He loved us enough to die for us. He showed us what true love is like. And now, He commands us to love one another in the same way. v. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you

God wants us to love one another the way Jesus loved us? Yes. It is impossible! Yes. Humanely impossible. That’s why God gave us His Holy Spirit to help us. Some of us are humanly impossible to love. Like me. That’s why God empowers us to love. Jesus died and rose again, ascended to the Father, and now sends the Holy Spirit to indwell all His children, so that we might love one another. You can love me with Christ’s love! And I can love you too.

Now, I want to tell you a secret about love. Do you want to hear it? Ready? Love… is not mainly a feeling, but an act of the will. [Repeat]. If love was a feeling, you couldn’t command love. “Love him. Love her.” “I don’t feel very loving.” But because love is a choice, and act of the will, God can command us to love. And even though we may not feel like it, we can choose to do so in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the secret of love. It can apply to husbands and wives loving one another, to you loving your parents and siblings… and in today’s context, loving one another in the family of God.

Friends, this is a very serious thing. This is the ‘Love Test’. I want you to note the deliberate contrasts John uses here repetitively. The contrast between ‘love’ and ‘hate’, and between ‘Light’ and ‘darkness’. v. 8 because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 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.

If you are in the Light (you’re a Christian), you must love your brother/sister in Christ. If you hate them, you are in darkness and you do not know God. Does it mean we have to love perfectly? No. But let us grow in love. Young people, loving one another means committing to come for service on Saturdays. I think that’s a bare minimum. You cannot love whom you do not even meet. More than that, when you do meet, love one another. In what ways? Countless ways. Be imaginative.

Allow me to toss in a couple of ideas. First, arrive early for service – even if you’re not on duty (but especially if you’re on duty!) This gives you opportunity to dialogue, catch up with, even pray for one another. No better way to build bonds of friendship. And resist the temptation to play computer games or check social media. Put away your laptops. Put away your handphones. Play sports, board games etc. Engage one another. Don’t run off after service. Have a meal together. Watch a movie together. Invest in one another’s lives.

Second, worship team on duty. Practise is important, yes. So come early so you don’t have to rush. But here’s my advice. Focus less on getting the songs right, and more on loving one another, ministering to one another, praying. No point getting impatient or angry with one another and then after that stand to lead people in worship. It’s incongruent. That does not please God and that does not edify/build up one another.

It has been said that, “The most honest test of Christian love is whether we love those with whom we have disagreed or had difficulty.” So don’t stop attending service just because relationships are difficult. In fact, work at those, so that at the end of the day, the whole body of Christ, the whole family of God here, is built up. Love one another. Friends, are you passing the ‘Love Test’ today? The first thing the apostle John wants us to know today is the commandment to love.

(Turn to one another and say, “I choose to love you.” Say it with sincerity!)

 

2. The Commandment not to Love (v. 15-17)

1John 2:15   Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

Now, these three verses do not actually refer directly to the ‘Love Test’, but they can be applied indirectly. And that’s what I’m going to do later. But for now, let’s ask ourselves what these verses mean? What does it mean to ‘not love the world’? What does this world stand for? In the Bible, there are a variety of meanings. First, it can’t mean our physical world. Don’t love the physical world. It can’t mean that because God created our physical world. And even though it is marred, tainted by sin, this world created by God still retains its goodness. So we should take care of our world, don’t misuse its resources, don’t abuse it. Second, it can’t refer to the people who live in the world. Don’t love the people in the world. Because God loves the people in the world and He calls us to love them as well.

‘The world’ God tells us not to love is the world system that opposes God… the values, the ideas that are against the values of God’s kingdom. It’s defined here by v. 16 ’the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life’. What do these mean? First thing to say, it’s not anything new. In fact, it was the sin of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Really?

Let’s look at Genesis 3:6 “When the woman (Eve) saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh), and that it was a delight to the eyes (lust of the eyes), and that the tree was desirable to make one wise (boastful pride of life), she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband (Adam) with her, and he ate.”

Lust of the flesh. Lust of the eyes. Boastful pride of life. It was all there in the Garden of Eden. Nothing has changed. Satan and the world still tempts us with these three areas. The main idea is that we look to these things for our identity, significance and provision instead of depending on God. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had Paradise. God had provided for them all they needed, for sustenance, for companionship, for love… everything. Most importantly, God had given Himself to them. And He wanted them to depend on Him for everything. But Eve and Adam decided not to trust in God and they disobeyed God’s command. They were basically saying, “God, what You’ve given us is not enough. We want more in order to be happy.”

What does it mean for us today? It’s the same thing: the idea, we must have _____ in order to be happy. I think one of the greatest challenges for us today is advertising. Huh? What do you mean? Well, what does advertising seek to do? Make you and I dissatisfied. That’s how they earn our money. By making us dissatisfied, and in turn, make us desire their products. You only have iPhone 5S? See what iPhone 6/6 Plus can do! All the stars use Beats headphones, you should too. And you can apply this do virtually any product: bigger houses, nicer cars, more exotic holidays etc. Lust of the eyes.

It can even be applied to relationships. How I wish she was my girlfriend. How I wish he was my boyfriend. How I wish my boyfriend was hotter. How I wish my girlfriend was sexier. How I wish we could be more physically intimate. Lust of the flesh.

Finally, pride of life. Hey, I am rugby captain, I must be pretty awesome. (Joke ah, joke.) Or, how come I don’t get chosen to be on the worship team, I must suck pretty bad. You think too highly of yourself or you think too lowly of yourself. Both are pride issues. Friends, none of these (status, position, accomplishments, possessions, wealth, etc.) determine who you are and how much God loves you. If you buy into the world’s value system, that’s how they determine what you’re worth: what you can afford to buy, who you’re attached to, what position you’re in. And if we love the world, that’s what we will chase. Now, God is not saying any of these things are necessarily bad or evil: having a car, nice house, good job, getting attached. But what He is saying is if these ultimately define you who are, then the love of God is not in you. It’s a very serious warning. 

We have to make our choice young people. The Bible tells us clearly, if you want to experience the love of God, we cannot love the world. If we love the world, we cannot experience the love of God. I’ll share with you something I’ve learnt recently. In early September, I attended my church conference with the theme “Radical Discipleship”. One of the lessons that really impacted me is the statement made by the conference speaker, “Don’t make to-do lists.” He said, if something is a priority in your life, don’t make it a to-do list. Because to-do lists are left undone. Instead, schedule it into your calendar. So that’s what I did.

Now, I used to do my quiet time regularly. As in, almost everyday. But the timing varies. I don’t often have a fixed time I spend time with God, so sometimes, it’s like right at the end of the day, when I’m almost dozing off to sleep, then I read something from the Bible which I won’t remember. So that went out the door. For the past couple of weeks, my alarm is set to go off at 5:30am on weekdays, 6:30am on weekends. I made a commitment to wake up early to read the Bible and pray. Now there’s something else you need to know about me. I’m a nightbird. By nature. I love staying up late. I hate waking up early. So, waking up early means I have to go to sleep earlier also. 11:30pm. Man, that’s tough.

What’s my experience been like? Well, it hasn’t been like dramatically different, but it’s honestly been worth it. I’ve been hearing God clearer. I’ve been fleeing from sin quicker. I’ve been ministering to people more powerfully. So I’m thankful. This is not about me, it’s about God’s grace. He has been good. Young people, if you want to experience the love of God, you have to stop loving the world. Reduce the time you spend watching youtube videos, sitcoms, playing computer games, surfing social media etc. Schedule time to read the Bible and pray and apply what God is speaking to you about. If you want to see a radical change in your life, you’ve got to be radical.

Do not love the world, because then you can’t experience the love of God. Do not love the world, because that also hinders you from loving one another. How does that work? Let me illustrate. iPhone 6/6 Plus just launched. Singtel had this pre-registration exercise and within minutes, all the appointment slots for their big launch, starting Friday, at Marina Bay Sands were taken up. But on Saturday, they released limited quantities to all their retail stores on a first-come, first-served basis.

So I was there at BPJ plaza near my house slightly more than half an hour before the shop opened. 1st in line. I was so going to get the iPhone. And while I waited, I was also reading today’s sermon text. Not bad ah? Sermon preparation on the go. Anyway, when the store opened, I went in and the salesperson attending to me promptly said, “I’m sorry sir. Cannot.” You see what had happened was it was my wife’s contract that was due to be renewed and I assumed that if I brought her ic along, it would be sufficient, because I had done it before. But Singtel’s new policy demanded I bring along an authorisation letter from my wife.

I was upset and said, I did this the other time. Why not now? Thankfully, the salesperson’s colleague said to me, “Sir, I tell you what. We’ll hold a set for you for today, but by today, you must bring along the letter, or your wife has to come personally.” “Ok, thank you” I said. Then it hit me. I got upset over a lousy phone. While I’m preparing a sermon about not loving the world. Epic fail right? God convicted me and I apologised to the salesperson attending to me. I could not possibly love the salesperson, in the name of Jesus, if I loved the iPhone. Friends, do not love the world. So that we can love one another. Don’t value things above people. Don’t think of your own desires, wants only, consider one another’s needs as well.

So, there’s the commandment to love one another. There’s the commandment not to love the world. Finally, there’s…

 

3. The Confidence of the Beloved (v. 12-14)

1John 2:12   I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Whenever you come across repetition in the Bible, you must slow down and take note, because something important is being emphasised. Here, the apostle John reminds believers of who they are, or rather whose they are… their identity in Christ. Over and over again, we must remember, Christianity is not first and foremost what we do for God. Christianity is first and foremost what God, in Christ, has done for us.

Little children… your sins have been forgiven for His name’s sake, you know the Father.

Fathers… you know Him who has been from the beginning, you know Him who has been from the beginning.

Young men… you have overcome the evil one, you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Now, some bible commentators have said, these three terms describe 3 stages of spiritual growth: from little children, to young men, to fathers. It’s possible. But because the apostle John frequently refers to believers as little children, therefore, we can apply all 3 to ourselves. The beginning of our spiritual birth is when we recognise only God can forgive our sins. We cannot do enough good deeds. We cannot live a good enough life. Christianity is God who is holy forgiving sinners who are unholy. And He does so in grace. We are forgiven!

We grow as Christians, learning to fight a battle. Spiritual warfare is a normal part of the Christian life. Satan hates us, just as he hates God and will do anything to bring us down, including using the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. But God has won the victory over Satan, sin and death and He now gives us His Word to help us on the ongoing battle. The war is won, but battles are still being fought. Read God’s Word, young people. Read it daily. Have victory in spiritual warfare. We are victorious!

And from beginning till the end, we are Christians! We know God! Our identity is crucial. I have deliberately left out one aspect of our identity which I believe ties our first two points together. The key to obeying the commandment to love (one another) and not to love (the world) is found in this: we are the Beloved of God.

1 John 2:7 “BELOVED” !!!

I believe that only truly loved people can truly love. It is only in experiencing God’s love that we can love one another and stop loving the world. When God comes into our lives and His love fills our hearts, we will be satisfied. We will stop chasing after the world and what the world has to offer. Instead, we will be set free to love people.

Do you know that the term ‘Beloved’ literally means the ‘Loved Ones’? You are God’s ‘Loved Ones’. God loves you. He adores you. Though you may grieve Him, though you may forget Him… He loves you. He forgives you. He cleanses you. And He wants to use you.

Today, I want to challenge you to rise up and take action. As God’s ‘Loved Ones’. That we may share His love to others. You know iPhone 6/6 Plus just recently launched. There was this Australian dude who was first to get the new iPhone 6 and while he was being interviewed on TV, this happened. [Show video] He dropped it! Now, I want you to imagine a scenario with me. Let’s say you were in his shoes, and imagine you could look into the future and know that as soon as you bought your iPhone, you would drop it and it would smash to bits and it would be dead. Would you still go ahead and invest a few hundred bucks into the phone if you knew you were going to drop it and it would shatter?

We wouldn’t do that right? Invest in something that doesn’t last very long. But in reality, we do. In what way? By only investing in this life and not the next. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount not to store up treasures on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven. But too many of us are busy storing up treasures on earth. They won’t last. They will perish. God is asking us today to invest in eternity.

How do we do that? Someone once said, “Only 3 things last till eternity: God, the Word of God and the souls of men.” The way we invest in eternity is that we go about God’s kingdom work in winning people to Jesus. Loving people, praying for them, inviting them to church, sharing the gospel with them etc. The event that’s coming up soon is a BIG opportunity for you to do this: TNT Camp.

I want you to use the prayer list provided for in your sermon notes. Write down names of friends you will pray for and invite to TNT camp. Pray for them by name. Pray for them consistently. Pray that God will bring them to TNT camp and that He will meet them there and that their lives may be transformed. Pray for yourself. That God would revive you and fill you with His love, that you may love your brothers and sisters in Christ, that you may love your non-Christian friends. [Pray]

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