1 John 3:11-18 January 1, 2017
Sermon Series on I John Sermon # 13
Today’s Sermon: “Would You Lay Down Your Life for the Person in Another Pew?”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
3:11 “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
What is love? Is it a feeling, or something romantic? If we are honest, we would admit that while it is easy for us to love someone whom we like, it is difficult to love a person who we don’t like. How do we show the love of God to the person who is hard to love? How do we love the person in the other pew, at church?
The passage of Scripture begins with two contrasting commands:
On the one hand, we as followers of Christ must love one another, plain and simple.
On the other hand, we must not be like Cain, in Gen. 4, who murdered his brother Abel.
Now we might self-righteously say to ourselves, “I would never kill someone else!”
Yes, but what about having the same feelings as Cain, the same heart attitude toward someone else that we despise?
“What do you mean?”
Well, Cain killed his brother because he resented his brother’s righteous actions. That is, Abel’s righteous/ godly actions in offering his sacrifice made Cain feel that his own sacrifice was shoddy and cheap, and therefore he resented his brother. Abel’s sacrifice made Cain feel guilty and shameful. His own sacrifice was exposed as self-centered, and he wanted to cover up the glaring difference between the two, so he eliminated Abel and his righteous sacrifice.
Let me ask you: have you ever felt that way towards another person? Have you ever felt like your self-centered actions and your sinful attitude were being put to shame by the Christ-like attitude and action of another Christian? How did you respond in your heart? Here’s what I have done, at times: I think of ways to discredit the other person. I look for areas where they might not be so holy and wonderful. I seek to bring them down, to my level.
When you and I do that, we are like Cain. We may not be thinking of how to actually eliminate the other person (by killing them), but in our heart, we are plotting how to degrade the righteous acts they are doing, so that they don’t put us to shame and make us feel guilty.
So God warns us: “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one (Satan) and murdered his brother.”
Now look at v. 13 and see the connection there to how the unbelieving world often views us: “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.” That is, those who live in darkness and rebellion against our Holy King Jesus hate it when the love and truth of the Lord shines through us. Why? Because just like Cain’s hatred of righteous Abel, the unbeliever can’t stand it when Christ is working His light and truth and righteousness in and through us. For example, think about AlphaCare in Philadelphia, which has been helping pregnant women and their children for over 30 years, and never charges a penny. You would think the secular people in the city would applaud that good work, right? But generally speaking, they hate it. You can be sure the folks at Planned Parenthood hate what AlphaCare is doing, because AlphCare’s righteous works, done by the power of Christ and for His glory, are putting PP to shame, with the killing of unborn babies, and how abortion is a big money maker for them! So just as Cain wanted to eliminate righteous Abel, so those who favor abortion rights want to eliminate any work that seeks to honor God by offering free help to the weakness and most defenseless of our society.
And you’ve probably experienced this hatred, or at least some snide remarks against what you do, if you are active in promoting God’s work in our society, right? Lynn and I have received such feedback from some of our own family/ relatives. People without Christ love darkness and hate the light; they hate the light because it exposes their deeds of darkness, so do not be surprised if the world hates you.
But remember: you were once in that darkness. You once hated God and those whose light put you to shame. It was only the amazing grace of God that gave you a new heart and a new set of eyes to see by faith. So watch out for self-righteousness. Ask God to work in the hearts of those who slander you and oppose you. May the Lord turn many “Cains” into “Abels”!
Now, let’s get back to the main teaching which is addressed to us as believers. God is warning us to watch out for any signs of hate, of resentment, of envy and jealously in our hearts, especially towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. And the first signs of such hatred show themselves first in our thought life, and then usually appear on our lips – in the form of subtle slander or gossip. Take heed, and repent, when you notice these initial signs.
Then in vv. 14-15, the Apostle John draws a hard and clear line between hatred and love: 14 “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” Notice the sharp contrast, with no room for shades of gray in the middle. Either you love your brothers – and that shows that you have passed from death to life, or you hate your brother – and that demonstrates that you do not have eternal life in you. Either you love the person in the other pew, or you are still living in death and darkness. Either you are putting Christ’s love into action toward the people in your small group, or you are murdering them in your heart! Love or hate. Life or death. Minister to or murder.
Which side are you on? Do your attitudes and your action back that up? It’s challenging, isn’t it? Such love for others is impossible – of our own will and effort.
Perhaps at this point you feel resentful at me for bringing this up. Perhaps you’d like to just keep doing what you’re doing, and not be challenged by any sermon. Well, it might surprise you to know this, but I’m with you! Sometimes I don’t want to love people more. I don’t want to be challenged by Christ’s love! I’d like to stay at my current level of lukewarm love for others. When Lynn lovingly encourages me to reach out to someone in love, there are times that I don’t naturally want to make hard sacrifices and adjust my self-centered attitude. I’m getting too old to change, and I’m tired of other people’s problems!
Or maybe you feel discouraged and defeated by this challenge to love others. You’re thinking that you don’t feel well; your plate is full already; you are showing a fair amount of sacrificial love to a number of needy people each day or each week. You are receiving this message as a criticism, when what you say you need is encouragement, and a pat on the back.
Well, whatever you are thinking right now, I know for certain that 1 John 3:16 has the remedy for you: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”
We can see bumper stickers and banners proclaiming that “God is love,” but they never tell us what that love looks like. The rock group Foreigner raised the question, “I want to know what love is.” Well, here in 1 John 3:16 we are told what love is: that “Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.” The Greek phrase implies laying aside something, or divesting yourself of something. It is used of Jesus taking off His outer garment in John 13:4, before He washed the disciples’ feet. So God is calling us to lay down our lives in order to love others. He is calling you and me to lay aside our self-centeredness so that we can care for others with God’s love.
Do you see the great contrast between Cain and Christ in vv. 11-16? As Cain is presented as the supreme example of hate, Christ is given as the supreme example of love. A person’s own life is his or her most prized possession. As John Stott writes: “Consequently, to rob him of his life is the greatest sin we can commit against him, while to give one’s own life on behalf of another is the greatest possible expression of love for him.”
So here we have the ultimate contrast:
Cain’s hatred resulted in murder, while Christ’s love issued in self-sacrifice at the cross.
By the way, this is also the difference between a radical Muslim and a radical Christian: a radical Muslim lays down his life to kill others; a radical Christian lays down his life to save others. It’s the difference between their founders. Mohammad took up the sword; Christ took up the cross.
Lord willing, we’re going to look at this truth more next Sunday as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. But for now, I want you to be both challenged and encouraged by Christ’s sacrificial love. His love for us at the cross, dying in our place, taking our sins upon Himself, is not only our model for loving others; it is not only our motivation for loving the person in the pew behind you and in front of you; Christ’s sacrificial love is also the might behind our ability to love; His love provides the grace for the radical makeover needed to turn us from hatred to love, from death to life, and from darkness to light. Christ’s love energizes us and transforms us!
For if God so loved us this way, ought not we to love others in the same way?