RPM, Volume 15, Number 5, January 27 to February 2, 2013

The Inseparable Link Between
Divine and Christian Love

1 John 4:20-21

By J. Ligon Duncan III

I'd invite you to turn with me to 1 John chapter 4. We're returning to our study of 1 John today. One of the things that has become apparent to us through this study is that John has love on his mind. John is very concerned to exhort the Christian church to love, and especially to a love which expresses itself not merely in a claimed love of God, but in a practical, manifested love to one another in the life of the local church. And he's emphasized that exhortation in different ways. For instance, you'll remember from 1 John 2:8-9 that he urges us to love one another because love is part of the commandment of God, and he notes there that its not only a new commandment; it's an old commandment. It's always been God's way that He desired His people who professed to love Him to love one another—to have a real love, practical concern, care for one another. And then in 1 John 3:14-15 he said, 'Look, we need to love one another in the Christian church because love is the evidence that we are a new creation. Love is the evidence of the work of God in our hearts and lives. Love is the evidence that Christ and His Spirit have changed us from the inside out.' Jesus, John would've remembered, had said to His disciples on the night of His betrayal, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another as I have loved you." And so John takes that lesson and presses home the witness power of a congregation that truly loves and cares for one another.

And then in 1 John 4:7-16 we saw John argue that we ought to love one another because the nature of God itself is love. God is love, and He has demonstrated His love in the giving of His Son. So John's piling up arguments as to why we ought to love one another. And there's a reason for that: It's easy to love; it's just people that are the problem. And you know there's a unique challenge to love in a family, and that's what we are in the church: we're a family. You can't choose your family; sometimes you wish you could. And so John knows that there are definite challenges to really manifesting love in the life of the local congregation, and so he brings to bear these exhortations. Before we hear God's word read and proclaimed, let's look to Him again, asking His Spirit to illumine our minds in the hearing of the word. Let's pray.

Father, we thank You for Your word. It's a lamp to our feet; it's a light to our path. This word is also a challenge to our hearts. Search us by Your Spirit to see if there is any unclean thing in us. Convict us. Draw us to Christ. Change us by Your grace. Make Your word to go forth and not to return empty-handed. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear God's word, 1 John 4, beginning in verse 20:

20 If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

I. Love for God and lack of love to Christians reveals falsehood/hypocrisy in profession (20a)

John's message is simple. It's very simple. It's clear. But it is also profound and it is hard. This message is easier to say than to do. It's easier to talk about than to live. But it's important to say, and John's saying it over and over again because he knows what a challenge this is in our lives as brothers and sisters in Christ.

So what's his message? Well, here it is in a nutshell, in a sentence: True love to God is always accompanied by love to our Christian brothers and sisters. And John is saying here that the latter tests the former. Our love expressed to one another in the bonds of Christian fellowship tests our claims to love God. The latter proves the former. Our love to one another in the bonds of Christian communion especially in the local church but with all Christians, all those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, proves the reality of our claim to love God. You remember the context of John's letter. There are teachers in this congregation that are claiming that they are without sin or that the sins that they are committing in their bodies don't count since Christianity is a spiritual thing and only our spirits matter before God. And therefore you can live however you want in your body, and you can still be a perfectly sinless Christian in your Spirit. And this kind of teaching in the congregation had not only misled some, and these some had become followers of these false teachers, but it divided the congregation because the false teachers were saying that their followers, "We have a higher knowledge, a deeper knowledge, a secret knowledge of God. We know God better than the rest of these ordinary folk in the congregation." It had brought division in the congregation. And those who were following this teaching were not showing love to the brethren. They were dividing the church. They were creating dissension and confusion. They were looking down upon those who continued to believe the teaching that John and the other apostles had preached. And so John is writing to that congregation and he's saying this: 'Look, I don't care who claims to know God, when they relate to the brothers and sisters in Christ like this, it proves that they don't know who they claim to know.'

But John's specific application has a much broader, universal application for Christians, not only in that congregation but in our congregation. And John says two or three things about our love for one another in this passage that I want us to pay close attention to.

First, if you'll look at the very first sentence of verse 20, here John talks about the evidence of our love to God in our love for one another. "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar." John is telling us that love for God and lack of love to Christians reveals a falsehood in our claim to know God. Love for God and lack of love to Christians reveals hypocrisy in our profession. When we claim to love God and yet lack basic love for Christians it reveals that we are not telling the truth. John puts it more bluntly than that; he says, "We lie." The visible evidence of our love for God, John is pressing home, is found in our love for one another as Christians, especially in the local church but also within the whole of the visible church. And I want you to see that John's key point here is not emotional. It's not that we always have warm, fuzzy feelings towards one another. When he says, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar," if you think, "Okay, as long as I am not seething with hatred towards my pew-partner today, this verse doesn't have anything to do with me," you're wrong! Hate in typical Jewish manner is an emotional term applied to a practical issue. To hate means, in this case, "to fail to show love in any practical and tangible way." In the case of the false teachers and their followers it was to show hate by dividing the church, but we could show a lack of love in many ways in the Christian congregation. And John is calling us as believers to show love to one another in tangible and practical ways.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 gives us a description of love that helps us to put feet on that particular challenge. You remember what Paul says about love? "Love is patient. Love is kind, and love is not jealous." So how do we love one another in the bonds of the Christian church, in the local congregation? By being patient with one another and kind to one another and not envying one another. Paul goes on to say that "Love does not brag. It is not arrogant." There is no room for love and pride in the same heart. And so pride is the enemy of love and it is not the expression of love, and so love does not brag and is not arrogant. And so in our relationships with one another, we do not think more highly of ourselves than we ought and we consider others before ourselves. "Love does not act unbecomingly. It does not seek its own." Love puts the other first. Love seeks the best interest of another at our own cost. That's how we love in the Christian church. "Love is not easily provoked and does not take into account a wrong suffered." Yes, in the context of the local church you can experience many and great wrongs suffered…and Paul is saying that love doesn't take into account a wrong suffered? Yes. Ouch. Yes, love is not easy. It's easy to talk about; it's hard to do.

Why do you think John keeps coming back to it? "Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness." Young people, what were you rejoicing with one another about Friday night or Saturday night? Prom season is coming; what are you going to be rejoicing with one another about? Unrighteousness? Immorality? Drunkenness? Debauchery? Fornication? Or are you going to be rejoicing in the truth? If you are encouraging one another in immorality, you are not loving as the word commands. "Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness." The same goes for us, adults. What do we encourage one another in? What do we rejoice in with one another? In the righteousness, in the truth? Or in unrighteousness? Paul goes on to say that, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love sticks with it." This is the kind of love that John is calling us to express in the life of the local congregation.

And there are unique challenges to that because we're a family, and you know loving family is both easy and hard. It can be simultaneously the easiest thing and the hardest thing to do in the world. For one thing, you can't choose your family. Your family's given to you—it's there. Once you marry, your mother-in-law and father-in-law, they're yours, and the cousins and everybody else. And you know there are some wonderful things about that and there are some hard things about that I'll never forget. Sarah Kennedy and Jennings's cousins are in South Carolina so they can't just walk across the street and see their cousins. And the first time that they were old enough to really play and know with their cousins, I will never forget the excitement they had when we announced to them that they were going to see their cousins. Now as far as I know, they didn't know what the word cousin meant, nor did they really know their cousins. But they had an innate excitement that they were going to go be with their cousins—whatever that means and whomever that meant. And the Christian ought to be like that to a certain extent. We ought to have an innate love for our family, our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the local congregation. But there ought to be a love of heart to all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, not just a natural love of affinity, of things shared in common, of shared pasts and experiences, but a gospel love for one another, a recognition, "That's my brother. That's my sister. I have a love for them."

But loving the family can be hard. There is no hurt like the hurt that can be administered in the family. There is no wound like the wound that can be administered in the family. And to love in that context is a great challenge. And here John is saying, 'You can talk about loving God all you want, but if you can't love the family of God, don't tell me about loving God.' You see, John is articulating for us an incredibly profound principle: Our deeds reveal our hearts. Our actions show our nature. You do what you are. And in this case a real love to God shows itself tangibly in our actions, in loving and caring and showing concern for one another. Now that's not to say that a love and care and concern for one another can't be faked, or can't be hypocritical, but certainly the claim to know God and not to show manifestation of God's love in our relationships with one another gives the lie to that claim. And so John is saying, 'A claimed love for God and a lack of love to Christians definitively reveals hypocrisy.'

II. It is impossible to love the invisible God and not love the visible saints (20b).

Now he goes on. He becomes even more specific in the second half of verse 20, and here's the second thing that I want you to see. Here John elaborates on the contradiction of claiming to love God and not loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. "For the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen." John is saying that it is impossible to love the invisible God and not love the visible saints. One great Christian has put it this way, "To affirm one's love for the unseen while failing to love the seen is to enter into the realm of fantasy." The person who fails to love fellow Christians cannot possibly be truthful in his claims to love God. That's what John is saying. Love for God expresses itself in a loving concern for fellow Christians, and a lack of such a love proves a lack of love to God.

Have you noticed, now that we've gotten to verse 20, we have now covered the three black lies of the letter of 1 John? Do you remember the lies of John? There are three of them. The first we found in 1 John 1:6 and also in 1 John 2:4, and that lie was the claim that 'I can walk with God and live in disobedience. I can walk with the holy God and I can live in immorality.' So the first lie is a moral lie. It's a lie that immorality can coexist in fellowship with the living, holy God. The second lie that John attacks in this book is the lie that we can know God and yet deny His Son. He deals with that in 1 John 2:22-23. You cannot know the Father and deny the Son. So the second black lie of 1 John is a doctrinal lie, a claim to know God while denying what the Bible teaches about Jesus. And then thirdly, this lie (It is a relational lie.): "I love God but I don't love the brethren." And have you noticed that in this book we have said that John gives three tests for true Christianity. And what are those tests? A moral test (Do we obey God's word?), a doctrinal test (Do we believe what God's word says about Jesus?), a relational test (Do we love one another?)…and notice the three, black lies that John attacks: a moral lie ('I can know God and live in immorality.'), a doctrinal lie ('I can know God and deny what the Bible says about Jesus Christ.'), a relational lie ('I can know God without loving the brothers.') 'If what a man does contradicts what he says,' John says, 'he is a hypocrite.'

III. God's commandment to Christians is to love God and the brethren (21).

One last thing, look at verse 21. Here's the commandment to a double-love. "And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also." Here John reminds us that God's commandment to Christians is to love God and the brethren. God's own word of command indicates that to love Him and to love the brethren should not be separated. "And what God has joined together, let no man put asunder." Love, you see, is not a suggestion in God's economy. It's not an option. It's not something you do if you feel like doing it. It is a divine command. It's an obligation for the Christian. Every one who loves God loves his brothers and sisters in Christ. John Stott is surely right when he says, "Every claim to love God is a delusion if it is not accompanied by unselfish and practical love for our brethren."

Let me apply this truth, this one big, great truth that John keeps circling around in four really important areas. The first area is that of Christian marriages, especially in this local congregation. Friends, marriage, Christian marriage is the proving ground of love. And there cannot be a few gathered here today who do not know the hurt and pain that can be engendered in the context of marriage, even between those who confess to be Christians. And yet God has ordained that our love for Him would be manifest in our love to our spouse. If we've been called to Christian marriage, then our love for God is manifested in our love for our mate. That means, my friends, that Christian marriage is a battleground of faith, and it is a proving ground of grace, and it is the soil and the nursery for growth and grace. That is one reason why Christian marriage is so important. The next time you struggle through your relationship with your mate, and you try and figure out for the 137th time how to make it work, remember that there is more at stake than your happiness. It is the proving ground of love.

Secondly, let me address John's exhortation to the issue of our friendships in this congregation. Now there are a lot of new folk at First Presbyterian Church over the last decade. Over half of this congregation is new in the last decade. But you know many of you have deep and long roots, not only here at First Presbyterian but in Jackson and in the state of Mississippi, where we're all related to one another somehow or another. Now you have a challenge in cultivating love and friendships in the life of the local congregation, and here's that challenge: If the basis of your friendship and your relationship is primarily and fundamentally and exclusively that you grew up in the same neighborhood, and that your parents and your grandparents were friends, and that you went to the same elementary school, high school and college; and you were in the same fraternity or sorority, and you live in the same neighborhood now—you have a challenge to make sure that that friendship is a gospel friendship, a friendship that is not simply brought about because of the natural affinities that you have, not simply brought about because of the commonalities that you have; but it is a friendship which is fundamentally grounded in the fact that you are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ and that a gospel love for one another suffuses the whole of the relationship. Do we love one another for that reason, or is it for others?

On the other hand, you will have the challenge, if you have those kinds of friendships and many of them in the congregation, to reach out across the boundaries of comfort and familiarity and to seek to enter into gospel friendships with others in this congregation whom you don't share those affinities with, who didn't grow up here, who don't have fourteen cousins at First Pres. or thirty-six in the city of Jackson or somewhere else. No, our friendships, all of them, whether we've known our friends for fifty years or five minutes, ought to be in some measure gospel friendships, Jesus Christ at the center. The glorifying of Christ: the great concern of our shared lives. Encouraging one another in Christ as part of those relationships, encouraging one another to be faithful to the word, to love the word, to read the word, to be involved in the church, to be building up one another and exhorting one another to love and good deeds—that's what those friendships should be like. And John's words certainly exhort us to that. If we're truly going to love one another as God says in His word, then we are going to seek as a whole to be a family in this church. And that's going to mean loving one another, whether we've known one another for thirty-five years, or were in the same fraternity or sorority, or grew up in the same neighborhood or high school or not.

A third area I want to apply John's truth to, and that is the healing of breaches in the Christian congregation. You know, most churches have their own divisions and dissensions and tensions. And surely there must be some in a congregation of this size. And we ought to have a concern, a desire, for the sake of not only Christian unity, but for the sake of the expression of love to God, to do what we can to heal those breaches—in marriages, in relationships with others in the congregation, and then outside the congregation in relationships with other true believers. It is an expression of the love of God which we are manifesting.

And then fourth and finally, let me apply this truth in this way: John's command is one reason why discipleship has to happen in the church. You see, if we are involved in discipleship outside the church and deciding to commit ourselves to this group or that, the nice thing about that is you get to choose who you want to be with. In the church, you don't get to do that. Oh, I understand, you get to choose what church you join, but once you join that church, everybody in that church, everybody who comes to join that church becomes the context of your Christian discipleship. And you have to learn how to love them, and how to get along with them, and how to be patient with them, and how to deal with offenses from them, and how to encourage them even though you're different from them. That's one reason why the church is essential for discipleship, because God says, 'I'm going to grow you not where you're like everybody else; I'm going to grow you in a context where everybody else is out of your control. You must learn to grow and be mature amongst a group of people that you don't choose.'

What a wonderful blessing that is. Friendships will be struck up with people that we never would've befriended otherwise. Love will be manifested in relationships that we would never have had otherwise. Parts of our own vices and sins will be challenged in ways that they never would've been challenged otherwise. And we will be more mature for it. You see, the church is essential for discipleship. Oh yes, you can go find a group of seven guys that you really like, and you can spend time reading and praying and encouraging one another, and that's great! But it will never substitute for the church. Because in the church we need to be different and need to be family in order to grow up. That's where we learn how to love: when feelings get hurt. That's when the opportunity to learn how to love begins, not ends. May God help us to love one another here as John in the Bible calls us to love. Let's pray.

Lord, when we sing the words "Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love," help us to mean it, and by Your grace to do it, in Jesus' name. Amen.

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