By Simon ManchesterSunday 6 Dec 2015Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterChristian LivingReading Time: 19 minutes
Our loving Father we pray that you would out of your great kindness and power help us in these minutes now to see in your Word things which are precious, timely, helpful, encouraging and challenging. Would you speak a word in season to us we pray – In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
I heard recently of a Minister who was telling his daughter a bible story before bedtime and got so excited telling the story that she interrupted him and said ‘Dad, is this a true story or are you just preaching?’ which I thought was a very scary question really. Is the preacher really meaning what he says?
We are in a Series on “The Church”. Is it a good idea to get excited about the church? I think it is a good idea to get excited about the church. I suspect and suggest to you that one of the most exciting stories to be told in the world is the way God is building his church around the world.
I will just give you one tiny window into the church in Ethiopia. The Sudanese Interior Mission sent missionaries into a section of Ethiopia in 1927. After 8 years in this very tough, Satan-worshipping area there were 48 Christian people after 8 years. Mussolini sent his troops in that year 1935 and ordered all missionaries to leave. The missionaries were of course disturbed and fearful that they would have to leave this little church – so young and so small. And when the missionaries had left, the troops, the Italian troops gave the Believers a very tough time and gave the order of 100 lashes to anyone who declared themselves to be any leadership, any Christian leadership.
One Pastor was given 400 lashes and preached publicly as he was beaten. But 8 years later, the missionaries were allowed to return and they found that evangelists had gone from that particular area to all the outlying areas and there were an estimated 18,000 professing faith in Jesus Christ. The way God builds his church is not a dull subject – it’s a great subject.
It may seem dull to talk about the church when you think about Sydney where Christianity is being rejected and the communities as you know are disintegrating in significant ways but if you were to go to Iran where there is tremendous welcome for Christianity and see lives being changed and the joy and the peace that is coming, we might have a very different picture of Christ building his church around the world.
Now what we have seen so far in our series is that God has a heavenly people. He raises his people spiritually and then he unbelievably seats them spiritually with Christ and all the little earthly gatherings are outposts of this heavenly gathering. So every time two or three or 200 or 300 or 2000 or 3000 gather in little outposts around the world, they are expressions of the heavenly church.
What we have tried to do over the last weeks is that we have tried to look at:
Who God’s people are?
Why are they God’s people?
Why they should meet?
When they should meet?
What they should do when they meet?
What they should do when they depart?
How God will enable these things to happen?
That’s the sequence so far.
And today we come to a very interesting significant detail of the church and that is that Christ’s people love Christ’s people. That’s what we just read in 1 John 3 verses 14-24 which is on page 1209. Perhaps the sentence which ties everything together this morning is chapter 3 verse 23 which says “this is God’s command to believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ (that’s his command to believe) and to love one another as he has commanded us.
Now you will make a big mistake this morning if you think that John is just giving us two jobs to do. If he is telling us – believe in Jesus (mental tick) and love Christian people (I remember being nice to somebody sometime – tick). If you think it was just two jobs you will make a mistake, for example contact family, and arrange Christmas lunch – job after job. It’s not like that.
The first command to believe in the Name of his Son, Jesus Christ is actually a call to submit to Christ. It is to put yourself in Christ’s hands. I need to say this again and again on Sundays because there are always people, and I know some of you, and I know some of you that fall into this category, and you know yourself, perhaps you fall into this category, you are not yet in Christ’s hands. You know about him and you like him but you are not yet in his hands. But to believe in the Name of Jesus Christ is to put yourself into his hands – to say “be my Saviour, be my Lord”.
The second command to love one another is live as a transformed person. Think of it like this – imagine a car that has no engine. The first thing is that that car with no engine be taken to a mechanic and an engine put inside. The second thing is drive it to the highway. And that’s what John is saying here in 1 John 3 verse 23 –
Get an engine – drive.
Believe in Jesus – love his people.
So when he commands people to believe in Christ, it’s not a job and it’s not a performance. You remember that people came up to Jesus in John 6 after he had fed the crowd and they said to him – “what must we do to do the works that will please God”? And instead of saying “do this, do this, do this and do this” – Jesus said “believe in his Son”. That’s how you begin the Christian life – you connect truly with Jesus.
Now John needed to say this because the people of his day and the people in our day were not and are not recognizing Jesus is the Christ. I know pretty well everyone in Sydney can put Jesus and Christ together verbally but very very few people have worked out that Jesus IS the Christ and therefore he IS the Messiah and therefore he IS the rescuer and therefore he IS the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Lord, the King, the essential, the Hope. Very few people have connected Jesus Christ in their faith.
That’s why John tells us in verse 22 of chapter 2 ‘they deny Jesus is the Christ’.
Chapter 4 verse 3 ‘they don’t acknowledge Christ’.
Chapter 2 verse 19 ‘they leave the church’.
Because in the end it doesn’t really interest them being told about Christ.
So this is a refusal that is taking place in John’s day and it’s a refusal that is taking place in our day to see Jesus as the Messiah. And nothing, friends, is greater proof that you have got a real faith than you have come to the position of realizing that Jesus is the hope of the world – the only hope for you and the only hope of the world. When that clicks, connects and when the penny drops there is real faith.
And there is nothing clearer that faith is vague or has not really arrived or has not really connected than to see Jesus as optional – likeable but optional.
So chapter 3:23 begins with this crucial connection – you’ve submitted yourself to Christ and then it goes on to say you’ve got this transformation that takes place, you have a new engine – love Christ’s people.
I was interested in the little book that Nick critiqued for us last week and the little book was called “Is God anti-gay? It is a very good little read and the book very cleverly begins where you would hope it would begin and that is telling people about Jesus and why they should follow Him and you know nothing should get in the way of following Jesus. And the book says this very interesting, such an obvious thing but it really arrested my attention. It said:
“When you begin to follow Jesus, you get a new life so that you begin to live as God always meant us to”.
I know that seems terribly obvious to say to you this morning and you may think – could you come up with something more original but do you realize that when it comes to Christianity it is not just talk. We don’t just gather here to say stuff and sing stuff and then it completely leaves us and we go out and that’s over. Once we connect with Jesus there is a new life which goes everywhere. It’s even in the car going home and it’s in the getting of lunch and it’s in the stuff of the afternoon and the activities of tonight and the business of tomorrow…… it’s a new life when we come to Jesus. And that’s what John is saying here.
Now I want to follow the argument from verses 14-24 and just look at it under 3 brief sections this morning – very brief.
First of all we find that love is part of our testimony when we become Christians – look at chapter 3 verse 14. John says “we know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers”. We have literally travelled from death to life or we have moved or we have migrated from death to life – how do we know that?
Well one of the ways we know that is because we have begun to love Christian brothers and sisters. Something has happened to the person who meets Christ and that is they have a new love for Christ’s people. Now friends this isn’t just natural kindness. There are some people who are just very naturally kind.
You think of Nelson Mandela who has been farewelled this past week – a man I suspect with tremendous natural warmth, affection, humility and in some sense greatness – horizontally a man who would behave to people in memorable and remarkable ways. I don’t get from any of my reading or listening about Nelson Mandela that there was a vertical interest in Christ. I may be wrong but I haven’t discovered anything about the vertical but in terms of natural kindness, he seems to have been a remarkable man.
This also isn’t talking about natural attraction. We all find some people easier, some people more difficult, some people more attractive and some people less attractive. It isn’t even just talking about natural feelings that come when we come to church and we are glad that there is a group to encourage and support us and we are glad to be together and we are not the only believer. He is not talking about that. He is talking about that God’s puts inside his people a new engine or love for Christ’s people and that new engine isn’t just appreciative, it actually is thinking
How can I be a servant to this person or
How can I help them believe or
How can I help them to grow or
How can I help them to make some progress?
That’s why I hope you will say in the words of chapter 3 verse 14 – part of the reason that I know I am a Christian is because God has changed my heart when it comes to other believers.
David Jackman says in his Commentary: “We cannot come into a relationship with the loving God without being transformed in some way into a loving person. Now the flipside is in verse 15 “if the heart is governed by hate for the brother, I wish he was out of this world, I wish he wish he would fall off a ladder, he wish he would fall off a cliff. Well John says – it sounds as though there is no new life present. Do you see what he is saying? Something has changed inside us, we no longer want evil for Christians, we don’t even think neutral about Christians; we actually begin to love Christians.
Now for those of you who are ‘thinking people’ and I know there are many of you who are thinking people this morning, this is my question – “How is John saying this, how is he communicating it? Is he saying (listen very carefully) new life leads to new love? Friends be very thankful that God has given you new life and new love.
Or is he saying “New life leads to love – if you don’t have the new love, may be you don’t have the new life”.
You see is he talking about love as a test? In which case many sensitive Christians here this morning will say to themselves – “Gee I am not sure whether I am really saved because I don’t have fantastic love for Christian people”.
Or is John saying new love is the fruit and you can be joyful and peaceful because Jesus gives salvation and fruits. Well I think the answer is the second one. Reading 1 John as carefully as I can and I don’t think that 1 John is designed to make people squirm! I think 1 John is designed to make people believe in Jesus and rejoice. And those of you who have believed in Jesus and you have come to the position of knowing that he is the Christ, your Messiah, your Saviour and your Lord. He has given you along with that belief a new engine of love for Christ’s people which is not perfect but it has begun and this is part of our testimony, part of the reason why I am thankful for salvation, it’s because He has begun to change my heart in regard to other believers.
And to borrow something that Chase said recently in one of his morning sermons “we not only find that we have in common when we mix with other Christians, the Holy Spirit in the hearts of each one of us – but we also discover that this Holy Spirit is more significant than any other earthly connections”. He the Holy Spirit in a way outweighs all the other possible connections and we have a new motivation to help one another keep going.
So that’s the first thing – Our Testimony includes new love for Christ’s people.
Now the second point this morning is We get our definition of love from Jesus. Look at verse 16. He says “this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”.
John Stott says “A person’s life is their most precious possession so if you laid down your life, you laid down your most precious possession”. That’s what Jesus did. And John goes on in verse 16 to say “we ought to lay down our lives for one another”.
Now friends obviously we are not ‘little saviours’. We are not able to copy what Jesus did. The point however is that when Christ loved us, it wasn’t just talk. It wasn’t just fuzzy feelings. Thank God it wasn’t just fuzzy feelings. Imagine if he had loved us by looking or peering over the edge of heaven and saying “I feel all sort of gooey about you!” It’s the coming; it’s the laying down of his life which has brought our salvation.
Therefore John is saying, (and this is the challenging flipside of this testimony of his love in our hearts) if there is no love for Christ’s people, if we somehow pay no cost and no price because we’ve set up boundaries or protections or priorities which are really above and beyond what God is commanding, John’s question is – is the engine there? Christ’s behaviour is contrasted with Cain (verse 12) Cain took life – Jesus gives life – and when you come to put your faith in Jesus, you have a new love which is a life-giving love.
Well in verse 17 if a Christian, says John, can meet a need responsibly that closes his heart, the question that John would ask is ‘has God opened the heart?’ What do we make of somebody (I include myself here) who on a regular basis has the ability to meet a need, recognizing the need and has learned and practised and is regularly got good at closing the heart. Well John’s question is “did God ever open that heart?” We might say the same with the church committee – what do we say if a church committee has the ability to responsibly meet the need but collectively closes the heart. Well we’d need to ask (according to 1 John) who is governing that committee?
Now there are many ways that we could apply this particular principle and you may think that I am going back on what I said in my first point which is that the love of Christ in our hearts is meant to encourage us – it certainly is – but the flip side is we ought to be recognizing that there is the opposite and if there is the opposite it raises new questions.
One way to apply this is to thank God very much for raising up in our church people who are wealthy and people who are not so wealthy that are very generous with their treasures and their time. There are people who help others in remarkable ways and we praise God for the hundreds of ways this happens not just on a Sunday, but behind the scenes in the small groups and in so many areas.
But friends, here is another way that we might consider how to acquire this because I think we ought to hold 1 John 3:16 in one hand and John 3:16 in the other hand and keep them together. John 3:16 we love –
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son
That whoever believes in Him
Will not perish but have everlasting life”.
And we say “GREAT”.
1 John 3:16
“And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers”
The two of them – John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 – they ought to be part of our mind and heart because when people make a profession of faith as they do so often to me, but they cannot be involved with Christ’s people or they won’t be involved with Christ’s people, what should I conclude? Is that these people have found a clever escape? Have they found a loophole in the Word of God? Or is possible that they have never really believed? Are they like the garden hose that is claiming to be connected to the tap but no water runs? Therefore we have to ask the question – is there a problem with the tap? (Probably not) or is there a problem with the hose? (Possibly).
I want you to think with me that the person who has no costly love for the people of God because they have always got another mission which takes them away from the people of God or they have always got family things that take them away from the family of God or they have always got a beach house that takes them away from the meeting place of God or they have got some reason for just dropping in every few months. We really do have to ask ourselves, don’t we, whether the transformation has taken place because true belief, says John, in the name of the Son of God of Jesus Christ brings love for Christ’s people?
And all the profession and all the protestation doesn’t seem to ring true if these two things don’t fall into place – belief in the Name of Christ and love for Christ’s people.
If you think that sounds harsh and hard and judgmental, I want to say to you that I hope you will think with me as lovingly as you can about people who are making professions without any proofs, and I hope that you will fear for them, love them and be concerned for them because there would be nothing more superficial or careless on our part than to listen to a profession without any indications of life and just say – well nothing matters.
John says exactly this in chapter 3 verse 18 – he says ‘let not love in word only but in word and in deed’. In other words you can only really work out whether a person’s faith and their profession are real by what follows.
So this love for Christ’s people is part of our testimony in which we rejoice. It is also the definition which is a challenging one which is that it moves in action. It’s not just talk.
The third point and the last point this morning is again We find assurance in God’s love to us and through us. Look at chapter 3 verse 19. John’s great concern is that his people, his readers be assured. He warns the unconverted person, he knows what it is like having Judas hanging around but mostly he wants the readers to be peaceful and joyful and that’s why he says in chapter 3 verse 19 “this is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us”.
Now friends, when do our hearts condemn us? Well they condemn us when we recognize our own sins and our unworthiness. And sometimes questions are raised in my mind and heart and may be yours as well – not just when I am sinful and inconsistent but more searching question are raised in my mind such as –
Is there really a new life there?
Is there really salvation present?
Or is it just a myth?
Maybe no change has really taken place?
Why am I making so little progress?
Why have I not become more like Christ?
Why does everything seem to be going backwards?
Now John is a great pastor and he is very concerned that his readers would be able to reassure their hearts. And his answer in 1 John 3:16 is that we are to remember that Christ laid down his life for us as sinners and that he has led us to Christ to put our trust in Christ and therefore our assurance is always not our sufficiency or our greatness or our performance but is his performance for us. And the fruit of this is a trickling and sometimes flowing love for other believers.
So the church, friends, is not a kind of a club that we drop in to and we tell stories and we drink drinks and we say ‘see you later, have a good week, take care’ and all that sort of thing. The church is a bunch of God’s people which is marked by the love of Christ. The love of Christ which is come to us and which flows through us.
Some churches are very challenging. Some people are very challenging. Some people take a lot of patience and a lot of kindness. Some pastors take a lot of patience and a lot of kindness. But one loving person can really make a big difference in a church. Sometimes one person loving the believers models to so many other believers the love of Christ – it has a transforming effect.
And the love that Christ gives to us is supernatural, miraculous and wonderful. When John Wesley was being robbed once by a highwayman and was handing over all his few possessions to the highwayman, John Wesley said to the robber ‘young man if it ever comes to you that you are going to mend your ways, I want you to remember this that the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin’. What a great thing to say to a guy who is robbing you.
And some years later Wesley was preaching in a church and a guy came up to him from part of the church and said to him ‘I want you to know that I was that highwayman and those words you spoke to me of the blood of Christ never were forgotten.
So God is able to give to us a new and wonderful love for his people. Our hearts may condemn us – there’s plenty of reason for our hearts condemning us but the love of Christ comes to us and it goes through us and that is a great comfort.
And that’s why in verses 21-22 we can approach God not because we have been great but because He is great. And we come to him not because our performance is wonderful but because Christ’s performance has been wonderful.
Verse 22 looks very depressing, doesn’t it? “You will receive from God if you obey” and you immediately think – O I’ll never receive anything because I’m not very obedient. But look at what obedience means (verse 23) it means that Jesus is the Christ and going on loving his people. And his Spirit (verse 24) will provide what is needed.
So friends, can you hear what I am saying this morning? You are going to walk out slightly scratching your heads – thinking I am not really sure what he is talking about this morning. But what I am saying to you is that eternal life is not earned by loving Christians but loving Christians is one evidence of eternal life.
And it would be very easy for me to finish this morning with a List – I’ve got 24 ways for you to love people – Hospitality, are you really listening to people….on and on with the list. And I think there is a part of us which kind of would like a list. As Bob Glenn reminded us – the legalist likes lists.
But I suspect that what John is doing as a pastor is not giving us a list but he is giving us a liberty. The liberty comes from faith in Jesus and if your faith is in Jesus you have in Jesus everything. You really are enriched. You are loved and blessed and accepted and listened to and you are supported and sustained and carried and richly, richly blessed. And out of that relationship with Jesus will come a new love for his people and you’ve got complete liberty in the way that you express that – new love for Christ’s people. And I suspect that the liberty which comes from the life of Jesus is going to do more wonderful things than any list could possibly be come up with.
So rejoice if your faith is in Jesus as the Christ because he has given you a new life and part of the expression of that life is to love his people. And I urge you to think of ways to do that in freedom.
Well let’s pray –
Father we thank you this morning for sending your Son. We thank you that he laid down his life, his most precious possession. We thank you for giving to us through his death immeasurable blessings dealing with the past, the present and the future, dealing with heaven and earth, dealing with eternity in ways that we could never measure.
We pray that faith in the Lord Jesus would be a reality for every person in this building and we pray that the new life that comes through Jesus would trickle or run into love for your people in a way which would honour you, strengthen others and bring great joy to ourselves.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.