Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Heart of All Things

Jesus has come to give us life, and we know that we have this life we are connected to Him. How are we connected to Jesus? It is through our obedience that we remain connected to Jesus. This is more than adhering to the do nots of Scripture, but it is the aligning of our wills to the will of God. We are living God’s will when we help people who are need, when we love the outcasts and rejects, and teach the truth to people who are lost. In other words it is when we follow the example of Jesus and hold on to the promises that He has given to us. Jesus is the source of abundant eternal life.

What does this life look like? How do we know if we are living the true life from Jesus? Consider this question for a moment: When do you feel the most alive? If you are anything like me I would bet that you feel the most alive when you are doing things with or for other people. You feel alive when you are with friends talking about the “good old days”. Perhaps you feel alive when you help your grandchildren make exciting discoveries. Or maybe you have felt alive when you were able to help someone who really needed your help.

Love is essential for living true life. We see glimpses of this truth as we think about the experiences we have had in our lives, when we have shared our lives with others.

Jesus has come to give us life. This life isn’t something that is reserved for us when we get to heaven, but is something that is ours right now, today. If this is true then how do I live this life?

The biggest obstacle that we have to face in living true eternal life today is that it doesn’t feel like it is any different than what life was before. In fact at times it seems to be more difficult. That is because our lives are being opposed. Before time there was a great rebellion in Heaven as Satan set himself in opposition to the will of God. He is in constant opposition to God’s will, that includes us living the life that Jesus has secured for us through His death and resurrection.

As long as we are living here on earth life is going to be a struggle, because our lives are being opposed. We cannot afford to give up on this struggle. To have hope in this struggle we have to remember Jesus’ promise to return and make everything right and His mission to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:1-10). Find hope in the promise of Jesus and strength in the example of Jesus. We are going to have to fight for life.

As we struggle to live life we need to remember something very important: Love is the lifeblood of eternal life. Eternal life will continue to flow through our veins as long as we continue to love. We need to love God and love people. Without love our lives we shrivel up and die. It is love that will keep us alive for eternity.

Love is the theme of 1 John 3:11-24:
11 For this is the gospel message that you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another, 12 not like Cain who was of the evil one and brutally murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his deeds were evil, but his brother's were righteous. 13 Therefore do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have crossed over from death to life because we love our fellow Christians. The one who does not love remains in death. 15 Everyone who hates his fellow Christian is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 16 We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians. 17 But whoever has the world's possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth. 19 And by this we will know that we are of the truth and will convince our conscience in his presence, 20 that if our conscience condemns us, that God is greater than our conscience and knows all things. 21 Dear friends, if our conscience does not condemn us, we have confidence in the presence of God, 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him. 23 Now this is his commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he gave us the commandment. 24 And the person who keeps his commandments resides in God, and God in him. Now by this we know that God resides in us: by the Spirit he has given us. (NET)

It communicates to us the importance that love plays in our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. For us to live lives of love we need to keep in mind three elements of love.

1. The first element of love is the importance of love. (vv. 11-15)
In verse 10 of Chapter 10 John writes: By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness - the one who does not love his fellow Christian - is not of God (1 John 3:10; NET). So the Apostle continues with: For this is the gospel message that you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another(v. 11, NET). According to John love is what separates the children of God from the children of the devil. Remember from the very beginning we have heard this message. It is the foundation of the Old Testament and the central message of Jesus. To love God and to love people are the two great commandments of the follower of Jesus Christ.

John provides us with a negative example of love. Do not be like Cain…John writes. Every family, from the very first family, has problems. Though we are still shocked when those problems boil over to result in a man murdering his own brother. Yet that is the example of Cain who murdered his brother Able because of Able’s righteousness.

The Bible is not very clear on what made Cain’s actions evil. We assume that it has something to do with sacrifice that he offered and that he wasn’t willing to give God the best portion of his crop. What we do know is that what ever Cain did he was not ignorant of his wrong actions: he knew exactly what he was doing. And the blessings Able received from God only reminded Cain of his wickedness in disobeying God. Cain allowed jealousy and hatred to grow in his heart and the end result was that he took the life of his righteous brother Able.

Hatred and murder take life. They do not nurture life, but they take life from others. Have you ever experienced the hatred of family members? Maybe not personally, but you experienced it from a distance as an observer. Hatred always makes people miserable. The family members are forced to take sides and the joy and happiness that are supposed to define a family taken away. Where is the life?

Where is life? Life is found in loving people. John tells us: We know we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers (v. 14, NIV). This is the key verse of this entire section, if not the entire book. We know we have life because of love. We have compassion for our neighbors, spend time with our family, and we help our friends. Life is found in our love. You want to know if you have eternal life, then follow your love.

If we don’t have love then we don’t have life. Hate, which in its most extreme form leads to murder, is mere indifference in its weakest form. It is giving help to people who are need when you have the means to help them because you are in essence robbing life from them. It is taking time to pray for people we can’t help, but who are in desperate need. Indifference is the opposite of compassion, which is the main ingredient of love.

What is the importance of love? The importance of love is that it reveals whether or not we have true everlasting life flowing through our veins.

2. The second element of love we have to understand is the action of love (vv. 16-20).
John began this section by giving us a negative example of what love is. We are not to follow the example Cain, instead we are to follow the example of Jesus Christ.

What is the example of Jesus when it comes to love? It is the fact that He laid down His life for us. This is the greatest example of love: the laying down of life so others can live. That is what Jesus did.

It seems that John understands that not all of us will be asked to do the supreme action of love: the giving of our physical lives. So John provides us with an example to help us understand how self-sacrifice can be real in our every day lives. Here is an example of self-sacrifice on a daily basis: we give what we have to help those in need. It is giving to help provide life for others. Jesus certainly did this. There were times when He was tired but when the crowds sought Him out He stayed and taught and healed the sick. The early Christians did this by continuing to preach the Good News of God’s Love and Jesus’ death and resurrection in the face of persecution.

We do this when we give money above and beyond our tithe to help a person with expenses. We do this when miss a business appointment to spend a few hours with a friend who needs to talk. We do this when we stop and pick up an acquaintance and bring them to church.

Love, according to John, is not just what we say, but it is what we do. We can say we love people, but if we don’t show love to people, then it is evidence that God’s truth is not part of our lives. There are a lot of people who say the love people, who give to humanitarian causes, but are terrible and hateful to their family. Love isn’t about giving money, but how we treat individuals.

This brings us to a difficult part of the text. What does it mean that our hearts condemn us? Sometimes Satan, trying to disguise himself as the Holy Spirit, will attempt to deceive us with our conscious. He will remind us of the times we were not loving to people or how we might have missed an opportunity to love someone. One of the truths John wants us to know is that our hearts, our conscious, isn’t always right. We need to remember God’s promise to forgive our past sins and our current commitment to love people. Those two things will show us that God accepts us, and He is the ultimate judge of our lives.

What is the action of love? The action of love is self-sacrifice, giving away things that are important to us so that we can improve the quality of life for someone else.

3. The third element of love we need to know is the hope of love (vv. 21-24).
Since we do not stand in condemnation of our hearts we can have confidence before God. Why can we have confidence before God? Because we have committed ourselves to doing His will. This is very important to remember as look at verse 22. With out this context we can take verse 22 and claim a promise from God that God never promised.

John promises that when we are committed to God’s will that we can be confident that when we ask something of God that He will do it. That is a wonderful promise. It is not the promise that God is our personal genie willing to grant our every wish, but it is the promise that God will give us those things that will help us accomplish His will. In other words God will help us love people. He will not necessarily provide the warm fuzzy feeling of love, but He will provide us with the resources necessary to properly show compassion for people.

What is the command that God has given us to obey? The first part of the command is to believe in Jesus. Why is this important? If we don’t believe is Jesus then we can spend all our time trying to improve people’s physical lives, but do nothing for their spiritual lives. Remember Jesus’ mission is centered on freeing people from their sins. It does very little good to help people with their physical needs if we don’t address their spiritual needs.

The second part of the command is that we are to love people. In other words we are to continue with the mission of Jesus in destroying the devil’s work. We do this, ultimately, by telling people the Good News about God’s love and the forgiveness of sins found in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Though it also includes helping them with their everyday needs, because this provides evidence that the Good News that we bring is the truth.

The promise we find in this passage is that when we obey God’s commands then we know that we live in Jesus. Remember this is important because it is through Jesus that we are given life, and it is by staying connected to Jesus that our life is sustained. There is another piece of evidence that we are connected to Jesus in the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. The Holy Spirit moves us towards compassion; He helps us understand the truth of God’s Word; and shows us the opportunities God has given us to serve other people.

What is the hope of love? The hope of love is that we are connected to Jesus.

When have you felt most alive? One time I felt alive was the summer of 2004. It was early July and I and 25 other people traveled from western Illinois to northern Arizona to a Navajo Indian reservation. It was shocking to see the extreme poverty that existed there. Our group spent five days painting houses and doing some minor repair on houses for people who could not afford to have it done. I also had the added privilege of being able to teach the kids and the sponsors who went along on the trip. I remember thinking: this is what life is all about!

Have you ever had that feeling? I hope that you have, because I believe that it gives us insight into what real true abundant life is all about. It is about love. Not love that is just spoken or felt, but love that is acted upon and shown. With out love there is no life in us.

That is the great truth that I want you to take away this morning: Love is the lifeblood of eternal life. It is how we maintain the life given to us by Jesus, and it is how we share that life with other people.

God has loved us and the result has been life. He has instructed us to love other people. Why does God want us to love? One of the purposes of the command to love others is so that they too might have life. Are you ready to love?

  • Point to Ponder: Love is the lifeblood of eternal life.
  • Passage to Remember: 1 John 3:14
  • Questions to Consider: How has love enriched your life?

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