The Meaning of Love
Topic: 1 John Passage: 1 John 3:10–3:18
By This We Know Love
Grace Community Church
March 4, 2018
The Meaning of Love
If you’re visiting us this morning we are in a study of 1 John, so let’s turn to 1 John 3 together and this morning we’re going to be looking verses 10-18.
1 John 3:10-18
Words can have different meanings in different parts of the world. For instance, if you overheard someone call someone a brat, you might think they’re calling them a spoiled child. But if you happen to be in Russia, they’d actually be calling them their brother (who may or may not be a spoiled child). When someone offers you a gift, before you accept it you might want to find out if the gift-giver has German roots because in German the word “gift” means poison. And next time someone says to you “hey, let’s go play in the barf!” before you answer find out what their native language is. If it’s English, politely decline the invitation. But if it’s Hindi, put your snow pants on and go build a snowman with them because “barf” means snow in Hindi. Somehow, though, snowball fight sounds more appealing than barfball fight.
How do you define the word love? What do you think of when you hear the word “love”? What does love look like? What does it mean to be loving? The truth is, what one person thinks of when they hear the word “love” might be very different than what another person thinks of. We probably all define love a little differently than the person next to us, but the important thing is, how does God define love? In this passage we get practical definition of what love is and what love does. And John uses two people as examples for us to learn from.
John first defines love by contrasting love with hate and to do that he reaches back to the beginning of the Old Testament and Adam and Eve’s first son, Cain.
11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.
At first glance, these verses might feel a little disjointed. Why bring Cain into a discussion about loving our brother? But as we dig a little deeper we see that there are some profound and fascinating connections between loving our brother and Cain’s story. First of all, consider the fascinating place in history that Cain holds: as Adam and Eve’s first child he holds the distinction of being the first human being ever born into the world. Then came his brother Abel. Abel kept sheep and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time, each of them brought an offering to the Lord; Cain brought some of the harvest from his labor and Abel brought the firstborn of his flock, a lamb.
And here’s where the story teaches us a profoundly important spiritual lesson. The Bible, as usual, uses an economy of words to tell us what happened, but using future biblical insights we can look back and better understand what happened. Hebrews 11:4 says 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.
Since faith comes by hearing the word of God, it’s not unreasonable to think that God had given Cain and Abel some instruction about the type of offering He would accept.
Abel offered his gift in faith and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Cain offered his gift in something other than faith and it was not acceptable to God. What Abel offered was a firstborn lamb, which we know was a foreshadowing of the sacrificial system that God would later institute and most importantly a foreshadowing of Jesus, the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. What Abel offered was a life that he had no part in creating so his sacrifice wasn’t a sacrifice of his efforts but of a life that God created. And that pleased God and He counted it as righteousness.
Cain offered a portion of his harvest, the direct fruit of his own labor. If Abel’s offering spoke of faith, Cain’s offering spoke of works. Cain worked hard and offered a portion of his blood, sweat, and tears to God. His sacrifice pointed back to what a great guy he was and how hard he worked – his offering was something he could be proud of. Which made it unacceptable to God.
God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s offering, but God didn’t reject Cain. He offered him the chance to get it right. In fact, He encouraged him to do right and warned him about the danger growing in Cain’s heart. Gen 4:6 says 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
Rather than follow his brother’s example of doing right, Cain resented it big time and was jealous of his younger brother’s acceptance by God and this ate away at him so much that he eventually murdered him. And this is the story of the world. That’s why John says, Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. (13). The world’s answer to righteousness that reveals their sin is to hate it, sometimes to the point of murdering it to silence it. Why did the Pharisees hate Jesus so much? His righteousness, his holiness, his innocence, his lack of head games and agendas and political power plays, his truthfulness and accurate handling of God’s word made them look shabby and evil in comparison. And rather than change, rather than come to Christ in faith, they sought to silence him by killing him. Of course we know that just as Abel’s blood still speaks, Jesus’ blood speaks an even better word: his shed blood cleanses all who come by faith in him. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and we bless God for every precious drop of blood shed for our sins. But John’s point is that there are many who, if we simply stand for righteousness and genuine faith in Christ, will hate us the same way it hated him.
John says that Cain was of the devil. He shared physical genes with his parents Adam and Eve, but he shared spiritual genes with the devil. The hatred that grew into murder in his heart mirrored his father, the devil, who Jesus says was a murderer from the beginning.
When a person lives in hate, they are walking in the footsteps of Cain, who was walking in the footsteps of his father the devil. Those who are born of God can’t live in hate, just like we can’t live in sin. We might struggle with hating someone at some point, but the life and love of God in us won’t let us make hatred our home.
14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not
love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
The Bible tells us that hatred is a close cousin to murder. To hold hatred in our hearts against a brother (or sister) is to hold at least the seed of murder in our hearts. To hate them means we want bad to come upon them, we wish they weren’t in our lives – maybe weren’t even alive. Hatred is murder in seed form. We can’t hold hatred and love in our hearts at the same time. The more we allow hatred to grow in us, the more it will choke out the love in our hearts. And vice versa. Love will overcome hatred. But they will not live in peace together. All those born of God will love and not hate. Jesus is so radical about this he even tells us to love our enemies and pray for them. That isn’t something we can just work up in our hearts, it needs to be the supernatural love of God in us. And John is emphasizing the supernatural event that salvation is: it’s not just believing stuff about Jesus, it’s being regenerated. It’s passing from death into life – being transferred from the kingdom of darkness, where hate is the currency of the realm to the kingdom of Christ where love is the currency of the realm.
So, if you are struggling with hating someone – and Christians do struggle with hating sometimes – go to the Lord and ask Him to do whatever it takes to free you from the devil’s grip of hatred. Then actively take steps to love them – starting with praying good for them and look for opportunities to do good to them. You might think, “but that’s not natural”. Exactly! It’s the supernatural love of God in us!
But John doesn’t stop his definition of love there. Loving our brother (and sister) is more than simply not hating them. So John points us to a second Person as the perfect example of love: 16 By this we know love, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
“By this we know love…” Jesus is the ultimate definition and display of love: he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. What is love? At its core love is sacrificial giving for the good of the one loved. And John warns us about a second big threat to love: indifference.
Deep Heart Thrombosis
Every year between 60,000 and 200,000 people will die from a medical condition known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Usually DVT occurs in a person's legs where blood has pooled, allowing a blood clot to form and the danger is that the clot might circulate to the lungs or brain where it can cause respiratory failure or a stroke.
The thing about DVT's is that they are not caused by irresponsible behavior, they’re caused by being inactive. They’re not caused by something we do; they’re caused by what we don’t do. Sitting or laying down too long is what generally causes Deep Vein Thrombosis. The other threat to love in the believer is something I’m going to call Deep Heart Thrombosis. John describes it beginning in verse 17:
17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
“Closes his heart”…Deep Heart Thrombosis. If we see someone in need and close our heart to them – basically do nothing, fail to have compassion on them – then John asks, how can we say the love of God is in our heart? Indifference is the biggest danger to love in the church. It’s so easy for us to live our own lives and shut other people out. To pretend we didn’t see them, didn’t see their need. Indifference can be harder to see and easier to hide in our lives because the unloving thing isn’t something we’re doing, it’s something we’re not doing. An indifferent believer isn’t doing terrible things or saying terrible things or causing all kinds of problems in the church. They aren’t out there hurting people or causing divisions or any of that disruptive, obvious stuff. They’re just quietly shutting their hearts on those in need.
One of the disguises indifference can take is sentimental love. Sentimental love replaces action with nice words. James gives an example of that when he writes 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good] is that?
The words are nice: Go in peace, be warmed and filled. It’s a nice sentiment. It sounds loving. But to close the door on the need without helping is not love. Be careful, John says, not to love only in words and talk, but to love in deed and truth.
Now the truth is, it’s harder today to wisely assess what are real needs and what aren’t than it was in John’s day. In his day, there really was little or no safety net. A crippled person had no disability to draw from, they lived by the charity of the community. A widow didn’t have social security or death benefits or employment opportunities like they can have today. And, just as importantly, the mentality of entitlement hadn’t taken deep root in those days the way it has today. When we try to help someone we need to be careful to discern what help they really need. If we’re enabling laziness, or promoting a victim mentality we’re not helping them, we’re hurting them. There’s a book called “When Helping Hurts” that charts out how a lot of people in poverty have been crippled by “charity” that is intended to help but has the effect of hurting.
So our love and compassion needs to be discerning for it to truly be love and compassion, but Jesus calls us to follow his example by laying down our lives for one another. What is love? I think at its core, it’s sacrificial giving. It’s fighting the urge to live selfishly and lay down our lives, just as Jesus laid down his life for us. Love costs. Love spends itself to care for others.
And it’s not just giving money. That’s one thing – John says if we have been blessed and someone else is suffering, we can’t close our hearts to their need. But laying down our lives comes in other acts of love and compassion. It might be coming alongside of someone who needs a friend. It might be helping someone with a home project. Sometimes love means encouraging someone to do something for themselves when their habit has been to expect someone else to do it (this is meeting a different kind of need, but it is what a true friend does). When God brings someone into our lives and they have a need and we have the means to meet that need, love acts!
This is the kind of message that can make us feel uncomfortable. Thankfully Jesus loves us enough to make us uncomfortable. As one person says, we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Because the best things in life aren’t usually the product of doing what’s comfortable, but doing what’s uncomfortable.
Let me give us a final encouragement. I began this message asking us to consider “what is love?” Let me ask a related question: “what is life? What makes for a good life? A rich, meaningful life?” In the end, the Bible tells us, the answer is love. A life lived indifferently will be an empty life. But a life lived to love and serve others will be a full and blessed life, both in this life and in the life to come. It’s by loving others that our lives grow into all that God means for them to be. God wants to use your life to make a difference in this world by showing love to others. By showing love we prove that we’ve passed from death into life. And we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus our Savior, who laid down his life for us. That is the ultimate meaning of love. Let’s pray.