When John says do not love the world we have to understand what he means and doesn’t mean by world. After all, the Bible says God so loved the world, so shouldn’t we love the world? What is the world John is talking about? The word world has not one meaning but three meanings in the Bible.
Picture yourself in a classroom taking a test and you open the test booklet and there’s one essay question. The question is do you know God? That’s it, do you know God? Oh, and it says, give three examples. What would you begin writing? Life is that test. Life is a test of whether we know God or not. John puts this test out there; do we know God and he gives three ways to know or test whether we know God or not. Last time we had the moral test of whether we do we know God, whether we are in Christ, and Christian, by keeping the commandments of God, by keeping His Word. In a couple of weeks, we will come to the theological test, a test the false teachers are failing. This week we have the social test of whether we know God, whether we are in Christ, and Christian, do we love our brother, our neighbor.
Nine years ago Patrick and I went on a road trip to a church conference in Moscow, Idaho. Patrick drove using his GPS. When we got to Pullman the GPS sent us on a route that I knew was wrong and had to talk Patrick into turning around and going a different way. We have had GPS arguments ever since. On-line there are whole websites devoted to GPS disasters. A woman in England following her GPS drove her $175,000 Mercedes into a river. Three Japanese tourists in Australia drove their rental car down a gravel road into the Pacific Ocean. A retired couple in Germany followed their GPS off the road and literally right into a church. People have followed their GPS onto railroad tracks, down flights of stairs, and up such a narrow mountain path they had to be rescued by helicopter. And yes, there have been several deaths from blindly following GPS. You can end up going where you don’t want to go if you don’t pay attention to the signs. Paying attention to signs is important even when you have GPS. I John is a book of signs, three signs actually, that tell us if we are on the right path going the right direction. We will see all three signs in chapter two, but they reappear in later chapters as well. The first sign is the moral sign in 2:3-6. This sign is about obeying the commands of God. The second sign is the social sign in 2:7-11. This sign is about loving the people of God. The third sign is the doctrinal sign in 2:18-27. This sign is about having faith in God. So these three signs in John can be our GPS to help us be sure we are on the right path going the right direction, signs that we are a Christian and that we are on the path of Christ.
John has a pastor’s heart. He cares about us and our relationship with God. He starts out “my little children.” This is the tender heart of an older pastor who sees his flock through the eyes of a father. What matters most to John is our fellowship with our eternal heavenly Father. And that is why he has so much to say about sin, because sin is the one thing that breaks our fellowship with our Father. This is why he is so earnest, please don’t sin, it breaks the most important relationship you can ever have. John wants our fellowship with God and our joy to be complete and sin will keep us from that. And this is why John’s words are so powerful and so beautiful, so full of heart-warming truth and hope. When we sin, we have an advocate before the judge of all sin.
Last week we heard John say: That which we have heard and seen with our eyes and touched with our hands we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with God and so that your joy may be complete. The point of the Christian life is to have fellowship with the one, true living God. Now John tells what they proclaimed. The message has two parts, what the world needs to know about God and what the world needs to know about sin (and ourselves). This is the foundational message of the Bible and of all of life. This is the Gospel message. This is the message we have received from Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Preachers and commentators alike tend to avoid I John. It’s hard to outline, it’s repetitive, ideas overlap, there doesn’t seem to be a clear flow or direction. It reads like a patchwork of favorite verses and memorable lines. There seems to be an over emphasis on God and love. But if you think about it, two things that people most often get wrong in this world are God and love, so maybe it needs some over emphasis. The bottom line is clear. The writer wants us to know the joy of intimate fellowship with God, the kind of fellowship there is between a child and his father. The opening three verses are enough to scare off many writers and preachers. It is a grammatical tangle of phrases piled on top of each other. I like the outline one commentary uses that captures this confusing opening paragraph. What is “which”, who is “we”, and what does “we” have to say about “which” to “you”?