The apostle John is called the apostle of love. The word love occurs 57 times in his gospel, more than the other three gospels combined. The word love occurs 46 times in his first letter, 27 of which are in chapter 4. That makes this chapter the other love chapter in the Bible after the famous I Corinthians 13. Twice John says God is love. Five times John says love one another. Those two themes go together. After all John has said about love and God, he is not finished, he still has more to say. And when he is done he will not have said it all. God’s love is unfathomable. That’s why Paul prays for God’s enabling grace
The Bible has a lot to say about love, which should tell us something about the One who wrote it. There is a whole book on romantic love in the OT, The Song of Songs. There is a whole chapter on love in the NT, I Corinthians 13. The most famous verse is on love, John 3:16. John has been called the apostle of love. He loves to talk about love. John writes a lot about love in his Gospel and in his letters. He mentions love over fifty times in his Gospel (more than other three Gospels put together. He mentions love almost fifty times (in 26 verses) in this short letter, and 15 times just in our short text (15 times in 6 verses). John already talked about love in 2:7-11 as a sign one is walking in the light, and in 3:11-24 as evidence one is a child of God. But I John 4:7-12 is the fullest treatment of love. This is another great love chapter in the Bible, and appropriately it begins, Beloved.
We are getting used to John’s way of writing. He makes constant use of contrasts to help us understand the truth. If we say we have no sin, verses if we confess our sin. I am not writing a new commandment, but an old commandment. Darkness and light; hating our brother and loving our brother. Love for the world, love for God. False prophets and true prophets The spirit of the antichrist and the Spirit of God. In our text John says “from God” six times and “from the world” six times. John is very concerned about two spirits which lead to contradictory confessions concerning Christ. Here is the problem. Those who are from the world and not from God are now in the church. Therefore, we must learn how to discern the spirits, how to eat the meat and spit out the bones. If you don’t pray for and develop spiritual discernment you place yourself and your family in danger of being carried along by the popular winds of doctrine and making shipwreck of your faith. Countless millions have been led astray.
You may remember me saying that I John is a challenge because he is so repetitious. He uses a 300 word vocabulary to write a 2300 word letter. So this evening I will focus on a couple of smaller specific points that can be easily missed when dealing with the larger points. We will begin at the end of our text.
At our Woodyard family Christmas gathering this year we played a game of This or That. People had to go to one side of the room or the other based on their preference for this or that. Starbucks or Woods, Huskies or Cougars, Coke or Pepsi, Packers or Seahawks, turkey or ham. Using contrasts and comparisons are great tools in teaching and effective in writing essays. We are helped to understand some things by looking at the opposites. John has been using this tool very effectively in his letter. Walk in darkness and walk in light Say we have no sin and confess our sin Love the world and love the Father Children of the devil and children of God. Hate your brother and love your brother. Our passage starts a new section in this letter. Most commentators on John’s first letter see it as having two parts and one main reason for saying it is each part starts with the same words.
John is especially interested in encouraging and promoting holiness and righteousness. He is motivating us to walk just as He walked (2:6). Last week John did that using the second coming of Jesus. I John 2:28 Abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. This week John will encourage and promote holiness and righteousness using the first coming of Jesus. This would work as a Christmas sermon. I John 3:4-10. I don’t know about you, but when I read this passage at the least it is perplexing and at the most it is discouraging. It sounds like John is saying if we are Christians then we will stop sinning, and we won’t be sinning anymore. 3:6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 3:8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil. 3:9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 3:10 whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God. 5:18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning I sinned yesterday, I sinned today, I keep sinning. What is John saying? Does he really mean if we are in Christ we will be righteous and we won’t sin anymore? We need help. And where should we turn for help? What is the number one rule for understanding and interpreting Scripture? Scripture interprets Scripture. Use God’s truth to understand God’s truth. Use clearer passages to shed light on less clear passages. And guess what? We find help right in John’s letter. What did he say in chapter one?
John is writing out of a heart of love and he is writing to those he loves with all his heart. Notice the manner in which he addresses them. My little children, beloved, little children, children. This is not meant to be demeaning or derogatory, but terms of endearment. He is like a loving and caring father to them, he has their spiritual interests at heart. So when he commands them, he is commanding them not as a master or a boss, but as one who is seeking their very best. He is persuading them out of love, not guilt or shame or self-interest.
Telling time is important to us Americans since we are so time conscious. In other cultures time and dates and deadlines are not nearly as important and some cultures barely have clocks. I preached at an Apache Indian church in Oklahoma that didn’t start until about 20 minutes after the stated hour and even then we started before the pianist arrived. But there is more to telling time than what a clock or watch tells us. There is knowing the times. “The Doomsday Clock is a symbol which represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. Maintained since 1947 by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board, the clock represents an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war” (Wikepedia). It is set once a year at the University of Chicago by a group of scientist. Right now it is set at two minutes to midnight, two minutes to an apocalypse. They hope this clock will somehow wake people up to the seriousness of the nuclear crisis and that we will do whatever we can to turn the clock back.
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.