1 John 2:7-11 Knowing that You Know Him: the Love Test (Rev. Erik Veerman)
1 John 2:7-11
Rev. Erik Veerman
Knowing that You Know Him: the Love Test
Our sermon text this morning is 1 John 2:7-11. You can find that on page 1210 in the pew Bibles.
If you are visiting for the holiday weekend, we are in the middle of a series in the book of 1 John. This book is the first of three letters that apostle John wrote. And he wrote them very late in the first century. John was likely the only disciple of Jesus alive at the time, in his late 80s or early 90s.
John’s purpose in writing was to correct some false beliefs that had arisen in the church. This included not just the content of what they believed about faith, but also their practice – how they were living. At this time, the church did not yet have the New Testament cannon. They may have only had a small handful of letters and likely they had John’s Gospel account. So, overall they had a limited set of the apostles’ writings upon which to evaluate truth versus lies and right versus wrong.
So, this letter was very much needed for the church. And John gave them clear criteria in order to evaluate their faith… not just the content of true faith, but whether their lives demonstrated true faith in Christ.
Last week, we began to look at a series of life tests. Each test is given to help you evaluate whether or not your faith is authentic. The first test was the test of obedience. True faith in Christ is marked by a life that seeks to obey God’s commands. To be sure, these tests are not telling you how to know God in Christ, but rather whether you do know God in Christ.
This morning the life test is the test of love. Does your life display love? Not the world’s definition of love, but God’s definition.
Let’s turn our attention to God’s Word. 1 John 2:7-11.
Reading of 1 John 2:7-11
The day started without much fanfare. The life of a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee included the mundane task of mending nets. James, his brother John, and their father Zebedee were each involved in the task.
But what started out as a normal day quickly turned to an extraordinary day.
We’re not told directly whether James and John had any sense of what was about to happen. The fact that they were busy repairing their nets suggests they didn’t. But as soon as Jesus called out, the Holy Spirit so compelled them that they immediately dropped their nets to follow him.
We can only imagine the questions swirling around in their minds. Who is this Rabi? What will following him involve? How can we be fishers of men?
And imagine what the next three years of their lives would be like. In the presence of the promised messiah…. Conversing with him, sitting under his teaching, seeing and experiencing many miracles.
John saw Jesus multiply the bread and loaves. He witnessed Jesus calm he sea; heal the paralyzed man, raise Lazarus from the dead. Miracle after miracle.
John was with Jesus when he taught the crowds. John heard him explain the Scriptures, witnessed him confronting the pharisees and loving the outcasts.
Over those three years, the crowds grew and the tension with the religious elite escalated. And over those three years, the disciples slowly realized Jesus‘ identity - the Son of God.
A few weeks before his death, Jesus set his sights on Jerusalem. He and the disciples slowly made their way to the holy city. When they arrived, it was this mixture of love and hate. The crowds initial shouts of joy quickly turned to shouts of murder. The Jewish establishment seethed - Jesus’ claimed an authority that only God possessed. They wanted him killed.
But then, the calm before the storm.
Jesus gathered his disciples in the upper room. They retreated from the fray. The disciples didn’t know what the next 24 hours would hold, but in the meantime, they were with the Lord.
And something amazing happened. Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist. He knelt down and then he began to wash his disciples’ feet. John, James, Peter, and the others. The Lord of all creation humbled himself to do the work of a servant.
Immediately after that Jesus returned to the table with them. And he said these words. Now, listen carefully and think about how they relate to our sermon text.
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
That is recorded in John’s Gospel chapter 13.
For the 60-70 years since Jesus washed his feet, no doubt John had been cherishing that moment and pondering those words. Really that was true for John’s entire time with Jesus, now that he could look back and reflect on what it all meant.
But when it came to John’s audience in this letter, that particular event and those particular words came to mind. Jesus demonstrated his love to his disciples by washing their feet… and he commanded his disciples to love one another as he had loved them. John wanted his audience to know that love and to demonstrate their faith with the same kind of love.
Jesus had said to John, “…people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” And John now was passing along that same message to his audience. Look at verse 9, “Whoever says he is in the light,” meaning he thinks he has faith in Christ, “and hates his brother is still in darkness.” John continues,
“Whoever loves his brother abides in the light.” His faith is authentic and true.
This love is the second test of authentic faith. Last week was the test of obedience. If you look back up to verse 3, it’s captured right there, “…by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” That involves knowing God’s commandments and pursuing them. Not the world’s standards of right and wrong nor our standards of right and wrong, but God’s standards.
But last week you may have had the question. “Ok, fine. I get it. God gives us commandments and we’re to keep them. But if keeping God’s commandments proves that someone has true faith, my question is this: What’s the difference between a pharisee who doesn’t have true faith yet is trying to obey God’s commands and someone who has true faith who is trying to obey God’s commands?
That is a very legitimate question. Jesus was vehemently opposed to the pharisees, yet they were the ones trying to keep God’s commandments. So what gives? What’s the difference between a pharisee and someone with true faith in Christ?
•Well, three things. Number one - Last week we saw that obeying God’s commandments begins with faith in Jesus for salvation. That’s the point of verses 1 and 2. The Pharisees rejected Jesus – and by doing so, they rejected true faith in him.
•Second, John is really clear that obeying God’s commandments is not the way to come to faith in Christ. No, seeking to obey God’s commandments demonstrates true faith in Christ. The Pharisees believed that by keeping God’s law, they were righteous and therefore worthy of salvation. That is completely opposed to what John has been teaching. We are all sinners. None of us is righteous, and we all need the righteousness of Christ by faith. Pursuing God’s commands will never save you. So really, the Pharisees failed the test of obedience.
•And third, the Pharisees would have failed the love test. These verses. Rather than love, the Pharisees were full of hate and pride. They didn’t love the least and the lost. No, they harassed and persecuted them. To the Pharisees, these sinners were merely pawns to be used or outcasts that that were damned. The Pharisees never loved and never considered God’s love in calling sinners to repent.
My point in bringing this up is that the obedience test of the first 6 verses of chapter 2 cannot be separated from the love test of verses 7-11. They go together.
The apostle Paul put it this way: “Love is the fulfillment of the law.” He wrote that in Romans chapter 13 after listing some of the 10 commandments. All of the commandments of the law are summed up by love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.
John opens these verses by confirming that. Love is not a new commandment that began in the New Testament. The call to love was not inaugurated by Jesus. No, rather love has always been the purpose of the commandments. When John writes that it’s an “old commandment from the beginning” he’s going back to the Old Testament law. It’s the call of Leviticus 19 to love your neighbor. It’s the call of the book of Deuteronomy over and over to love the Lord your God.
Yet, it is also, at the same time, a new commandment. That’s exactly what 1 John 2:8 says. John had in mind Jesus’ words that love is a new commandment. With Jesus’ fulfillment of the law through his righteousness, and with the Gospel promise for the nations, in that sense, love is a new commandment for all the world. So it is both an old commandment as well as a new commandment.
In a minute, we’ll talk about what true love looks like.
But before that, notice that in these verses, John has returned to the theme of light and darkness. He introduced that theme in chapter 1. “God is light,” he said, “in him is no darkness.” And then John called us to walk in the light and not darkness. Walking being a metaphor for living. Chapter 1 was the general command to walk in the light. And now, in chapter 2, he answers the question, “what does it means to walk in the light?”
If you haven’t noticed, John is very big on contrasts, light and darkness, truth and lies. And here he introduces another dichotomy: love and hate. Verse 9 “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” In other words, whoever says he knows God, yet his heart is turned against a brother or sister in Christ, he, in reality, does not know God.
Verse 11 further explains, “whoever 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.”
In college, I spent a summer in Bolivia… in South America. We were helping build a summer camp for kids. It was in a remote part of the country. The camp was right on a tributary of the Amazon River, so we were in the jungle. There were just 3 of us. And the missionaries just dropped us off with some instructions. To make sure we were ok, they had a short-wave radio in a shed on the property. And every night, one of us had to walk an 1/4 of a mile down a pitch-black path to this shed, to communicate with them. We took turns. It was dark. Even the light from my flashlight seemed to get swallowed up in the darkness. We could hear monkeys in the distance. And one night, while on the path, I saw this pair of beady yellow eyes staring at me. No just kidding about seeing eyes! …but you know, your mind goes there. There are things out there that could attack me at any time. And I thought, “what if my flashlight breaks? I won’t be able to see anything. I’m going to die in this jungle, trying to feel my way back to our base camp, but going in the wrong direction!” Have you ever been in a room where it’s so dark, you can’t see anything? And if you were to turn in circles, you wouldn’t know where the door is?
That’s what the apostle John is describing. The darkness of sin and evil without the light is so overwhelming, you can’t see where you are going. There’s no light to follow. The darkness has blinded your eyes. John says, “whoever hates his brother is in the darkness.”
In his sermon on the mount, Jesus spoke of hate its consequences. “You have heard that it was said… ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Jesus was equating anger with murder. Our very thoughts condemn us. You see, hate and love are matters of the heart. If your heart is full of anger and resentment and hate, John is saying that you are in the darkness.
To be sure, John not saying that if you are experiencing anger, you are walking in darkness. No, rather the question is whether your life is marked by hatred. Whether you anger is unbridled, and you feel no conviction about your hate and no desire to turn from it. If that is the case, then John is calling you to examine your life. It is not displaying the love to which you’ve been called.
Hate is the negative side of the love test. A life of hate is life of darkness apart from Christ.
On the flip side is the call is to love. The life of a true believer in Christ is a life marked by love… that seeks to pursue love, that demonstrates love for others. Someone who loves his brother, as verse 10 says, is in the light.
The reason we read 1 Corinthians 13 earlier is that it defines love for us.
Love according to the Scriptures is not a fleeting emotional feeling that comes and goes. No, love for your brothers and sisters in Christ is patient. It is longsuffering. It overlooks wrongs. It forgives. It endures the test of time. Love defers to the other person. It is selfless and humble. It honors the other person. The one who loves well, listens well and cares well. Love seeks to be united or reunited.
Loving your brother and sister in Christ does not mean never disagreeing. Rather it dictates how you disagree. It’s the manner in which you listen and perhaps compromise. It’s the kindness and demonstration of your heart’s desire for the wellbeing and honor of your brother or sister in the faith.
Furthermore, love does not mean an acceptance of someone else’s beliefs or lifestyle. That’s what the world thinks. A common expression today is “choose love and not hate.” You’ve probably heard that. You’ll see it on memes and tweets and t-shirts, and hear it in songs. Several books have been written with that title. The phrase “choose love and not hate” according to the world is about acceptance. If you disagree with someone’s decisions, their self-identity, then you hate them… again according to the prevalent cultural norms. But that is not what love means. No. As 1 Corinthians 13 says, love “rejoices in the truth.” This is another reason why the test of love cannot be separated from the test of obedience. We display our love for others by speaking God’s Word… with kindness and compassion and care.
Some of you are probably familiar with Rosaria Butterfield, author and speaker. She wrote about her conversion in her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. It’s quite the testimony because Butterfield was a liberal university professor, totally opposed to Christianity. She described herself as a leftist lesbian feminist professor. She did not want anything to do with Christianity. Her philosophical heroes were Freud, Hegel, Marx, and Darwin. In 1997, she wrote an article blasting Jesus followers, their conservativism, and their hate for women.
In her book, she describes the types of letters she received. Fan mail and hate mail – those who supported her and those who vilified her. But one letter came from a local pastor. In the letter, he was kind and not mocking. He asked her questions about her presuppositions… questions about how she came to her beliefs. Initially, Rosaria crumpled up the letter and threw it into the recycle bin. But the questions were gnawing at her. Unable to shake them, she fished the letter out of the recycle bin. And she responded to this pastor. That began a series of communications with him and his wife.
They invited her over for dinner. She accepted. They had open conversations about philosophy and sexuality and about faith. It started a friendship. Butterfield experienced the love of this pastor and his wife for her, and, also, over time she experienced a church family that loved one another and loved her. She witnessed deep heartfelt prayers for one another in the community, and care for each other’s needs. And love not just for her, but also love for her friends. She witnessed the love of 1 John 2. A faithful and loving community displaying the light, caring for her in word and deed. The ministry of that church family and the words of truth spoken to her in love bore fruit. She turned her life and her lifestyle over to Christ.
When we display the love of God to one another and to others, we not only testify to God as light, but we shine that light to the world.
After Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, his words about love challenged them not just to display love, but how their love would be a light to the world. Did you catch that? Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” One of the purposes of loving each other is to be a light to the world. Our love is to be displayed to the world… not in a look-at-us and see-how-much-we-love-each-other kind of way but rather in a humble way that demonstrates the love of God for us in Christ.
One of the many experiences that John witnessed was Jesus teaching in the temple.
He returned there multiple times. On one occasion, the crowds were amazed at his teaching. Jesus explained the law. He appealed to the authority that God the Father had given him. He spoke of the rivers of living waters for those who would come to him. It stirred the crowds. Many thought and realized he was the Messiah. But the Chief Priests and Pharisees rejected Jesus and sought to arrest him.
It is on this occasion that Jesus spoke these word: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
You see, when John spoke of the light here in 1 John chapter 2, he wasn’t speaking of God as light in a general sense as he did in chapter 1. Rather, here in these verses, John was speaking about the light of Christ. He had in mind the words of Jesus in the temple that he was the light of the world.
We see that in these verses. At the end of verse 9, he writes that “the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.” The light that he is speaking about is a light has already come and which is now shining in the darkness. John is conveying that the light is growing. The darkness is passing away. This is the Gospel light of Christ – the hope of salvation in him. By the time that John is writing these words, the Gospel had spread all throughout the Mediterranean region and had begun spreading to the rest of the known world in Europe and Asia and Africa. And as the light of Christ spread, the darkness began to pass away as more and more people received his light.
Notice also, verse 10. John writes that the one who “loves his brother abides in the light.” There’s that word that we came across last week. Abides. It means to take lasting residence in… to be one with another. In the opening verses of chapter 2, this abiding is not associated with God the Father or God in a general way, but rather the abiding is in Jesus. Knowing him and abiding in him is knowing Jesus and abiding in Jesus.
When we display the true love of God, when our lives reflect the love of Christ in us, then we are displaying the light of Christ. That love in your life is a testimony of a true faith in Jesus. You have passed the love test. As imperfect as your love is, it indicates that you are walking in the light of Christ.
However, if you do not know Christ. Or if you say you do but your heart is full of hate for a brother or sister, then, as the Scriptures say, you are walking in darkness. If that’s you, come to the light. Come to Jesus, the light of life.