1 John 3:3-18 I think that most of us have heard the phrase, “Talk is Cheap”. Or the phrase, “You need to put your money where your mouth is.” Or the phrase, “You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?”
And we know what is meant: that words are easily spoken --but the actions that accompany them, that give proof to the truth of what we say-- are costly.
That is the theme of our text today. John says that we Christians are not to love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. Now, John is not saying that we shouldn’t speak kindly to one another—not at all! The Bible is full of counsel on speaking kindly to one another
But what he is saying is that, the way we live our lives, and especially the way that we treat one another, ought to correspond to our confession of faith—that there ought to be a real connection between the love that Christ has for us shown in his sacrifice on the cross --and the love that we have for one another shown in the concrete ways we treat one another.
We Christians know what love is because we know the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross-- but what God wants us to understand today is that the world around us will to come to know what real love is because of the Christ-like way we treat one another.
The Bible says: Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. Every year, generally around Christmas, we all become combatants in what are called the “culture wars.”
The checker at Walmart says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. The schoolchildren get a “winter” break instead of a Christmas vacation. Some little town is sued because of the manger scene on the lawn of the county courthouse.
It’s becoming more widespread. Just recently a case concerning a one hundred year old WWI monument in the shape of the cross went to the Supreme Court because it was on public land and there were people who wanted it taken down.
And so I want to ask you: when these things happen, when you hear about them: how does it make you feel? John says: Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. But we are surprised aren’t we? Along with outraged and offended and up in arms at the injustice of it all! But here’s the thing:
I can assure you that the Christians in the Middle East and Africa are not surprised. They know, and always known the truth of John’s words that the world hates Christians. They have always taken heart in the words of Jesus that Christians are blessed when they are persecuted and that we ought to rejoice because that persecution identifies us with Christ and his people and that if we are hated, it is only because the world hated Christ first.
The attitude of the world towards Christ and his people us is hatred and we should not be surprised by it. But what should be our attitude towards others? Should we return hatred for hatred? Or is there another way? The Bible says that:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.
Let’s be very, very clear: the way of hatred is the way of death. And the measure of our faith in Jesus is found in the measure of our love for others—especially those in the church.
Now, it is not as if we are to only love Christians. The Bible says that God so loved the world. Jesus says that we are to love our enemies and do good to those who mistreat us. But in these verses John is especially focusing our attention on how we treat one another in the church as a demonstration of our faith in Jesus. If we love them or not. Now…
The church ought to be the easiest place to find love-- but too often the opposite is true! If you don’t believe me, reflect a bit on these questions: “How do you feel about the people in this place?” Picture them in your mind’s eye and think about it.
The people sitting in these pews with us today are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have the same heavenly Father. We have the same Savior. There is no one closer to us on earth than those in this place who share our faith. And so we ask ourselves…
Are there people here I avoid because they just set my teeth on edge? Are there people here I ignore because they are not in my social class? Are there people here that I am embittered towards because of some past wrong? Are there people here that I regard as my enemies because they disagree with me about something here at church? Hear the Word of God:
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
In these words John is simply echoing the teaching of Jesus. The Pharisees thought that they were in good shape spiritually because they were living outwardly holy lives. But Jesus called them white-washed graves: clean and white on the outside but ugly and dead on the inside.
He went on to explain what he meant: that it is not just those who actually have an affair who are guilty of adultery but the one who lusted-- and that it was not just the one who took a life who was guilty of murder but the one who was angry—and that living this way, even in our hearts, a person would never enter the kingdom of heaven.
That is exactly what John says here: that hatred of others, especially our fellow Christians is murder-- and that no murderer has eternal life.
These are hard words and they are meant to be because God wants to lay bare the truth about our hearts and lives: that much too often we do not love others as we should because we do not love others as we have been loved by Jesus. The Bible says:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
The truth of the matter is that we haven’t loved others as we should-- but it is also true that we haven’t been loved BY others as we should. In this broken world, true love is finally and fully seen in only one place-- and that is in the love that Jesus has for us at the cross.
He laid down his life for us out of love for us. He died loving people who did not know him, for people who hated him, for people who would heap scorn and ridicule upon him, for people who would never accept his love or allow themselves to be changed by his love.
He loved us, not because we are particularly lovable, not because of what he could get from us, and certainly not because we have ever or could ever do anything to deserve that kind of love. He loved us because he is love-- and he showed what true love looks like as he laid down his life for us upon the cross.
That is what love is-- and the Bible says that, as recipients of his love, as those who have passed from death to life through faith in him, as his disciples, we are to lay down our lives for others, especially for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now…
When John talks about “laying down our lives” he is talking about the crucifixion: of literally laying down upon the rough beams of a cross, of nails being driven into hands and feet, of a crucified body being lifted up for all the world to see.
That is what Jesus did for us-- and that is the shape of our love for others. And so what does that look like in our lives? The Bible says that:
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?
You and I are not called by God to be crucified for the sins of the world but we are called upon by God, as followers of Jesus, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices for the sake of those around us. The Bible says that this is our true, spiritual worship-- and this life of love will show itself in actions that are concrete, sacrificial, and costly.
John especially mentions the real connection that ought to exist between the worldly goods the Lord has entrusted into our hands as his stewards-- and how we use those goods to help others, especially those in the church.
There are countless opportunities in our world today to help those in need. To care for persecuted Christians and their families. To share with our fellow Christians around the world who don’t have the very most basic necessities of life. To help those whose lives have been turned upside down by the tragedies of life.
A closed hand and a closed wallet reveals a closed heart where the love of God does not abide and John says very simply that our love for others is not revealed in our words but in our actions. Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
The Bible is full of instruction and counsel about our speech. John is not saying that our words do not matter—they do!
But what he is saying is that there is a particular shape to our love. The truth of God’s love for the world was shown in Jesus’ death on the cross and so the truth of our love for the world, and particularly those in the church, God intends would look like Jesus. Amen.