On Being a Sibling in One Body (I John 3:11-24)
Topic: One Body: Love One Another Passage: 1 John 3:11–3:24
I. The Shepherd AND the Flock?
Consider this question: Is it possible to be 'on fire' for Jesus, but cold toward his bride? Or to put it another way, is it possible to be genuinely engaged with Christ, but disengaged from his people? Or is it possible to love the Good Shepherd, but be indifferent toward his flock?
Well, that's a good question to bring to God's word, isn't it? Let's do that this morning by turning over to I John 3, specifically, verses 11-24. Since this is a larger chunk of verses, we won't be able to talk about everything. But I do want us to see some of the key ideas here.
You may remember that last time we talked about how God cares about our spiritual health. And he wants you to care about your spiritual health Therefore, it is important to regularly, to spiritually, 'take your temperature' as a Christian. How can you do that? By using the word of God like a thermometer; that is, allowing God's truth to reveal unhealthiness in your life.
As we talked about in our first lesson, as Way of Grace, we've summarized this truth by defining four essential areas of belief: One Lord, One Body, One Truth, and One Mission. But these areas don't simply define essential Christian beliefs. They also point us toward indicators of spiritual healthiness when it comes to living out those beliefs.
II. The Passage: “Because We Love the Brothers” (vs. 11-24)
In the previous study, we considered the heart of what it means to be a servant of One Lord, that is, walking in light of the fact that the Christian life is a life aimed at one target: to please Jesus Christ at all times and in every way. Now, in moving forward this morning we are not moving on from that goal. We are simply going to build on that. So let's listen to what John is communicating in this passage to those who consider themselves servants of One Lord.
1. Brotherly Love and Vital Signs (vs. 11-15)
Let's start with verses 11 through 15. John writes...
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.  We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.  Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Now clearly, John was writing to a church in which some were being just downright mean.
At least words like “hate”, “murder”, “murdered”, and “murderer” seem to indicate that. And when we think about what God might be saying to us in this passage, we understand that all of us, of course, need to be reminded about the dangers of hateful feelings and hurtful behavior, especially when those feelings and behaviors are found within our faith family.
But I don't get the sense that our church is struggling in that way. So what I really hope you will take from this passage is the principle we find in verse 14. Look at that verse again: We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Do you see what John is telling us here? Genuine life in Christ always leads to a genuine love for Christ's people. Love is a sign of new life from God.
So let's go back to that initial question: “Is it possible to be 'on fire' for Jesus, but cold toward his bride?” In light of verse 14, it would seem the answer to that question is ultimately “no”, it isn't possible. But that being said, I think all of us know that genuine Christians can and do struggle relationally within the church, for a variety of reasons. Some feel the way they do because they've been hurt by the church. Some are simply scared about getting too close. And some have just never heard solid teaching about belonging to the Church.
But others, like many to whom John is writing, are intentionally ignoring or minimizing or twisting (v. 11) that message that [we] have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Wherever you are this morning in regard to sincere, brotherly love, there can be no doubt about the ideal toward which we either prayerfully process our feelings or we repent.
2. Sacrificial Service and Lip Service (vs. 16-18)
But look at how John builds on this principle in verses 16-18. John declares...
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
So John is making it clear for his readers that when he writes about brotherly love, this is what he means. Notice the contrast John presents here between sacrificial service and lip service. Do you see that? Jesus Christ is and always must be our standard for love, especially in how he exemplified love by offering up of his very life for us on the cross. That radically sacrificial love is the love that John is encouraging his readers to give to one another.
How? By (v. 17) opening their hearts to one another in light of genuine needs. Here the example is of someone who needs food and/or clothing and/or shelter. But we know these are just some of the many needs we can meet in love when it comes to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can also give needed company, a listening ear, a helping hand, a timely note/call.
But please don't miss the contrast in verse 18. In the previous section, John mentioned those who murder with hate. But here we read about a far more subtle infection within the body of Christ. V. 18: some might not practice hate, but still, they only speak of love. There's talk, but no walk. They proclaim good doctrine, but will not live it out. You and I may not be struggling with hate toward our brothers and sisters, but will our indifference and inaction have the same effect within the church? But look at how that ugly reality points us to the next section.
3. Your Heart and Your Healthiness (vs. 19-24)
Holding on to that beautiful picture of brotherly love, listen to how John continues in verse 19:
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;  for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;  and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.  And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
Did you hear John's heart coming through there? Did you hear God's heart in those words? John wants them to... 'take their temperature'. As he's done throughout this section, he continues to speak here about 'signs of life'; about spiritual healthiness. At times, all of us will deal with a condemning heart. That is not ultimately the issue. The issue is how we address, how we confront, how we wrestle with, how we operate on such a heart. As verse 20 reminds us, we need to bring that condemning heart to God, for God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. What does that mean practically? It means we turn to the word and prayer.
And when you use the 'thermometer' of the word, you will be able to discern if you are truly unhealthy. You see, some of us are condemned by past regrets and lingering shame. And when that's the case, the word is actually medicinal, because it comforts and heals us with the grace and forgiveness we have in Christ. But as is the emphasis in this section, when our hearts are hateful, when our behavior is hurtful, when there is only indifference and inaction in regard to our faith family, in spite of our talk, then the word confirms our unhealthiness.
One Lord. One Body. Servant. Sibling. You can hear those same truths in verses 22 and 23:
[look again, starting at the end of v. 22] ...we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.  And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
III. A Sibling Versus a Consumer
All who truly belong to God the Father, by his grace, through faith in his Son, are brothers and sisters in one family. But I think if we are honest about our modern world, and honest about our own choices, about our own hearts, we will recognize that the temptation today is not so much toward worldly hate instead of brotherly love. It is to be consumers rather than siblings.
You see... The consumer simply 'attends' a church out of want in order to get. The sibling is connected to the church by love in order to give (let me repeat that thought). Please take a moment and think carefully about which one best describes your relationship with the body of Christ. Please 'take you temperature' when it comes to this One Body that Scripture calls the church.
Now obviously, a spiritual 'consumer' doesn't think of himself or herself in these terms. But whatever language you choose to use, God wants you to take your temperature.
Remember, being a spiritual consumer may be different than you imagine. Such consumers are often not uninvolved. Yes, some are sporadic in their attendance. But others are consistent, sometimes extremely consistent; often committed to coming. And consumers do give, in one way or another. But they give as any consumer gives: in order to pay for a product that will meet his or her needs. For any consumer, that is the priority.
But the sibling is first concerned with what pleases the Father, and then with what blesses a brother or sister. Does that sibling have his or her own needs, needs that need to be met? Of course they do! But they've learned that, in most cases, they don't need to focus on their own needs to see those needs met. In fact, they've discovered that God is very often at work to meet their needs AS THEY are focused on meeting the needs of brothers and sisters.
Remember what we heard this morning: the man or woman who has truly “passed out death into life”, by God's grace, is one who loves God's people. That kind of love is powerful evidence of God at work in a person's life. So it is love that motivates a sibling in God's family; love that drives us to meet together regularly; love that gives us courage to take down our 'walls'; love that compels us to reach out to the other; love that prompts a prayer or inspires an encouraging word; love that overcomes our fears or excuses or uncertainty or busyness or insecurities; love that threads our lives together in a tapestry of fellowship.
And that love is radically sacrificial, isn't it? It is Jesus-like love. It is self-emptying love. It goes above and beyond. It can inspire and inform words (especially words filled with God's word), but this love is far bigger than just words. At least it should be.
Is it possible to love the Good Shepherd, but be indifferent toward his flock? Ultimately? No. But as we talked about earlier, is it possible for genuine Christians to struggle with loving other members of this One Body, of this faith family? The answer of course is yes. We can all struggle. All of us do struggle. But if this new love that comes from new life is truly present within us, it will make that struggle... purposeful. It will ultimately drive us forward in repent-ance and humility and a hunger to learn, to grow, to step out, to connect; to persevere.
Is this simply a matter of willpower? No. We know how all of this is possible. Look again at the very last phrase of this morning's passage: it's all... by the Spirit whom he has given us. The Holy Spirit fuels the engine of this Jesus-like love for another. We know how all of this is possible, and we know why all of this is possible. John 3:16 may the best known verse in the Bible, but please don't forget I John 3:16: By this we know love, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
Will you take your temperature this morning in regard to the church? Some pride themselves on attendance. Other reassure themselves because they love a good sermon. Still others are comforted by the stuff they do... for the church. While these are all good things, God's thermometer is, and always will be, love; brotherly love; Jesus-like, brotherly love.
Do you have that kind of relationship with God's people? Or are they merely people, like people in a grocery store; people who just happen to go to the same spiritual provider as you? If you are not connected in this way, why not? If you are connected, how else might you give; how else might you love... as a sibling in One Body... as a servant of One Lord? Please take some time even now to talk with God about your heart, about your struggles, about your reluctance, about the possible unhealthiness that may be, for you, coloring that word church.
More in Take Your Temperature
October 25, 2020On Being a Sent One on One Mission (John 4:31-38)
October 18, 2020On Being a Student of One Truth (Psalm 119:103)
October 5, 2020On Being a Servant of One Lord (II Corinthians 5:14, 15)