Category Archives: I John

Is Loving Christ the First Love of the Church?

I want to write a follow-up to the post I wrote last week on what I believe to be the source and solution of the problems in the church. I want to say again how much I appreciate everyone who participated in the discussion and particularly the grace with which you did.

In the discussion that followed the post, we began to look at what is involved in worship and whether or not the “first love” of the church is actually love for Jesus. Some very good ideas and arguments were presented from a variety of viewpoints.

I think we can all agree that love for God and love for the brethren are inseparably linked. I think the question that remains is, are they one and the same?

While the two are closely linked, I believe there is a distinction between loving God and loving people. I listed several reasons why I believe this in one of my comments, let me briefly reiterate some of those reasons now.

1.  It is possible for unbelievers to have a degree of love for one another, but I believe that only believers can love one another in the way that God has prescribed. Thus, a relationship with God is a pre-requisite for loving the brethren.

2.  When asked about the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:35-39), Jesus first named loving God, then listed loving the brethren. He even made a distinction between the two, calling the one the “first and great commandment” and the other “the second”.

3.  In John 15, Jesus spoke of His disciples loving Him first, then gave the commandment to love each other.

4.  In I John 1, John begins the epistle (which many think was written to the Ephesian church) by describing his close relationship with Christ, then expressing his desire to fellowship with others based upon that relationship.

Now having given those reasons, let me say that our love for Christ will not be fulfilled until we love the brethren. I would never want to discount our love for one another. Those who have read my series of posts on I John from last year will know the value that I place upon koinonia and agape. But love begins with our love for Christ.

It is only when I am walking in love with Christ that I will be able to love the brethren in the way that God wants me to love. I think we could describe this as vertical love/fellowship and horizontal love/fellowship. The vertical, of course, is our relationship with Christ while the horizontal is our relationship with others.

We could illustrate this concept by comparing it to the crosshairs of a rifle scope. Ideally, when aiming a scope, the vertical crosshairs need to be straight up and down which by default causes the horizontal crosshairs to be properly aligned. When the crosshairs are properly lined up, the target will be hit. I learned this lesson the hard way last deer season when I missed a nice buck trying to shoot it from a cock-eyed angle.

When my love for Christ (vertical) is properly aligned, it will cause my love for the brethren (horizontal) to be properly aligned as well. In this way, they are inseparably linked, yet the focus is on Christ. When both are properly aligned, we will hit the target of glorifying Christ in the church.


The Demonstration of Love

Hereby  perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.  I John 3:16-18

How do we show the love of God? Is it enough to simply go around saying, “God loves you and so do I”? Just as faith without works is dead, so love that is not shown is vain also.

 The first step in demonstrating love is having a full understanding of the love of God to begin with. We must observe and experience the love of God in our own life, and then focus upon that love as the benchmark for how we are to love others.

We are then to mimic that love in our relationship with the brethren. This is my commandment, that ye love one another as Ihave loved you. Our life should become one of service and sacrifice as we minister to the needs of others. I believe it was George Mueller who said, “Love is not measured in how much you give, but in how little you keep back for yourself.”

Love is not demonstrated as much in word as it is in deed. True love is compassionate toward the needs of others. It has no agenda and is given with no strings attached.

In short, we are to love the brethren according to the model of I Corinthians 13. Anything less is not loving one another as Christ has loved us.

The Dimension of Love

In this the children of God are manifest,and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore,slew he him? Because his own works were evil,and his brother’s righteous. Marvel not,my brethren,if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life,because we love the brethren.He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no, murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.  I John 3:10-15

As Christians, we are to identify with the love of Christ. Jesus declared this to be the defining mark of discipleship. This text would lead us to understand that righteousness and love are connected. Someone who does not love their brother is not righteous.

From the very beginning, it has been God’s desire that those who are created in His image love one another. Man was made with a capacity to love that no other creature possesses and yet, we often make ourselves the focus of that love rather than others. The only thing that will ever keep me from loving God and others as I should is self-love. Self-love that is ambitious, selfish, proud, defensive and easily offended, will always prevent us from obeying God’s commands to love others.

In these verses, hatred is identified with death. This world that is in the process of dying as we speak hates us just as it hated Christ. However, the transformation from death unto life that all believers experience awakens within us the ability to love.

There are times when a person can have such an absence of love in their heart, that they can have murderous feelings toward their brother. This is an indication that the person does not have a relationship with God. No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

Love can only be found in the dimension of eternal life. It is not passive in our lives. It cannot remain sealed up in our hearts, but is shed abroad by the Holy Spirit.

If love is in us, it will be demonstrated.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

In this post we will be drawing from I John 3:4-9 the conclusion that God wants us to be fruitful. A comparision with John 15 will reveal a fairly strong correlation in the themes of abiding in Christ so that righteousness may be produced in us.

Whosoever  committeth sin transgresseth also the law:  for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of  God doth not commit sin; for his  seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of  God.

1.  The Standard of Fruifulness

Verse four warns us that we transgress the law when we sin. Some would argue, “Hasn’t the law been abolished?” In the words of John Phillips, “The law has been abolished as a system, but it remains the standard of holiness for believers”.

Holiness is the fruit that God desires for us to bear. Knowing that we are incapable of being holy on our own, God sent a perfect Savior into the world to take away our sins. We are liberated from the bondage of sin, set free to bring forth fruits of righteousness that please our Father.

2.  The Source of Fruitfulness

Rightousness is given as a way of identifying those who have been made righteous. This righteousness is a result of our abiding (fellowship) in Christ. The phrase “commiteth sin” that is found in these verse refers to an ongoing, habitual practice of sin that is coupled with an unrepentant heart. Fellowship with Christ precludes this practice, allowing Christ the vine-dresser to purge and prune us to make us more fruitful.

On the other hand, those who commit sin in such an habitual, rebellious manner are neither in fellowship nor relationship with Christ.

Righteousness defines those who are in fellowship with Christ. This is not self- or pseudo-righteousness, but is the genuine manifestation of the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness is not produced by the believer, but is seen in  the life of that believer as a product of the fellowship with Christ.

By the same token, those who do wickedness (again, an ongoing, habitual, unrepentant practice) are identified with the devil.

3.  The Seed of Fruitfulness

A believer is born of God. This is referring to the soul of man that is dead in trespasses and sins before salvation, yet is regenerated by faith and sealed by the Spirit of God. The incorruptible seed of the Word of God is planted within each believer. While the sinful nature of the flesh is still capable of committing sin, the soul is rendered incapable of doing so. This assures us of the eternal life that is found in Jesus.

Fruitfulness can only be produced by faithfulness in our fellowship with Jesus. How does your garden grow?

Our Blessed Hope

And now,little children,abide in him;that,when he shall appear,we may have confidence,and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore, the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that,when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
1Jo 2:28-3:3

If we look at the world around us, we can easily see that there is a shortage of hope. The morals of society are crumbling. War, poverty, disease and a host of other ills are rampant. This is nothing new, but it is certainly getting worse instead of better. 

When we think of hope, the thought often comes to mind of something that is nothing more than wishful thinking. A child eagerly anticipates the arrival of Christmas or a birthday, in hope of receiving a long list of presents. A sports fan goes to a ball game hoping to see their team emerge victorious. A nervous young man musters enough courage to ask that special girl out on a date. Often, these hopes are dashed by reality.

For Christians, however, hope is more than just wishing things were better. It is more than a pipe dream, but is an earnest expectation of Christ’s return as He promised.

These verses give us five characteristics of the blessed hope that resides in each believer.

  • It is strengthened by fellowship–I John 2:28.
  • It is demonstrated by righteousness–I John 2:29
  • It is grounded in love–I John 3:1
  • It yields expectation–I John 3:2
  • It produces purity–I John 3:3

Does the life we live reflect the hope that we have? To do so, we must be faithful in our fellowship with Christ. Others should see His righteousness on display through us. Consider the love of our Heavenly Father who has chosen to call us His sons. Rejoice in the expectation that one day we will be transformed into His likeness, and keep yourself pure after the pattern of Jesus.

The world desperately needs to see the hope that God so freely gives.

Antidote for Antichrists

In I John 2:20-27, we find three things we can use to defend against the deception of antichrists.

Knowledge of the Truth
Every believer has received an anointing of the Spirit that enables us to understand the truth of God’s Word. No believer has “special access” over others into truth.

We must use this truth to identify the lies of the spirit of antichrist. This illustration may seem trite, but it is well-known that when bank tellers are trained to identify counterfeit money, they are thoroughly educated in what the genuine article looks like. Thus, if a bill doesn’t match up with what they know to be authentic, they reject it as being a deception.

The same principle should apply to believers when trying to discern doctrine. We should be so thoroughly familiar with who Christ is as revealed in Scripture, that when a false presentation of Jesus is brought before us, we are immediately aware that it is heresy.

Continuing in Doctrine
We cannot allow the basic doctrines of Christ to be forgotten. These are the very bedrock upon which our faith rests. Regardless of variations within our systems of theology, all true believers base their doctrine upon who Christ is.

I believe that this should cause us to frequently review the words of Christ. We should stay grounded in His teachings so that we will not falter in our doctrine. This will also enable us to recognize an “imposter” Christ. Without exception, every cult in existence has strayed from the truth concerning the person of Christ.

Take Personal Responsibility for Learning the Truth
The anointing of the Spirit remains in every believer. This is the “Spirit of truth” which was promised to us by Jesus, himself. This renders every believer capable of discerning truth. May I suggest that in this case capability equals responsibility? I believe that we are required by God to know the truth.

Too many Christians are content to learn the truth vicariously. They are perfectly willing to ignore their Bibles, instead relying upon their pastor, teacher, or the latest book to fill their minds with the doctrine of Christ. There is no substitute for a Spirit-led believer opening the Word of God and laboring over a text until the meaning is ingrained in their heart.

In short, the Antidote to Antichrists is TRUTH. Know it and you will be free.

Beware of Antichrists

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. I John 2:18-19

While the mission of Jesus is to seek and to save those who were lost, Satan’s greatest objective is to prevent this from happening. One tactic that he often uses is deceit, particularly about who Jesus is. If he can cause confusion about the identity of Jesus, he can cause people to doubt that Jesus is the Savior of the world.

The spirit of antichrist is very present in the world today. There are many who deny either the existence of or the truth about Jesus Christ. John took steps to both defend the truth of Jesus, and to refute the false teachings of the Gnostics who were plaguing the Ephesian church. There are basically six doctrines about Christ that are consistently attacked by the spirit of antichrist.

  1. The Reality of Christ–they deny His humanity, deity, and virgin birth.
  2. The Righteousness of Christ–some insinuate that Jesus was sinful.
  3. The Relevance of Christ–some try to confine His relevance to one era of history.
  4. The Redemption of Christ–some deny the sufficiency of His atonement by adding works to grace for salvation.
  5. The Resurrection of Christ–many would deny the fact of the resurrection which is the keystone of the doctrines of Christ.
  6. The Return of Christ–by denying His return, they ultimately deny His lordship.

These antichrists may often seek to be identified with believers, but they are not the same. Christians should use great care and exercise discernment concerning the usage of the “Christian” label. Obviously, not everyone who calls themselves Christian is actually a believer. This does not mean that we are to attempt to judge what is in a persons heart, but by evaluating their teachings, we can certainly know whether or not they know the truth.

Tomorrow we will look at the Antidote for Antichrists. Until then, God bless.

Overcoming the World–Part 3

And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever. I John 2:17

The third reason that believers should overcome the world is that it is only temporary. The world and all that is in it is already in the process of passing away. A believer who is enamored with the world will soon find that they are sailing on a sinking ship.

This world is full of the corruption of sin. There is not one thing produced by the world that does bear the stain of unrighteousness. There is not a person in the world who is to be held above all others in righteousness.

The things that we crave, obsess over and pursue will one day complete the process of decay and will be gone forever. I do not believe that they will even be remembered in eternity.

On the other hand, the person who does the will of God abides in continual fellowship with Him. This would tell us that the only way to perform the will of God is to eschew the world as much as possible. Our mind must be set on pleasing our heavenly Father. This would bring to mind the text of Romans 12:2, And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God.

The wonderful thing that can be seen in all of this is that we CAN overcome the world. The corruption, moral decay, war, terrorism, persecution and all of the other ills of the world system should not dominate the life of God’s children. Praise be to God, we can be more than conquerors through the power of divine love.

Overcoming the World–Part 2

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. I John 2:15

In this verse, we see the second reason why believers should overcome the world. Love of the world conflicts with love of the Father. The Scripture draws a hard line here, it is impossible to divide our affection between the world and God.

While the love of God may be shared with other believers through koinonia, it cannot be shared with the world. As I stated in an earlier post in this series, it is both possible and desirable that Christians should maintain fellowship with unbelievers, (we will never reach them otherwise) we cannot enjoy the same level of fellowship with them that we do with God and the brethren.

The “world” here, of course, refers to the world system. It is descriptive of all that is produced and affected by the world. This would include materialism, secular culture, humanistic philosophy, religion and power. John was familiar with the pull of the world:

  1. As a commercial fisherman he was familiar with the temptation of prosperity.
  2. As a conquered Jew he was familiar with the temptation of political power.
  3. As a disciple of Christ he was familiar with the temptation of popularity vs persecution.
  4. As a bishop of Ephesus he was familiar with the temptation of worldly philosophy.

Loving the world produces negative consequences in the life of a Christian. It will cause them to forsake fellowship with Christ and other believers. It will cause them to become a respecter of persons, seeking the favor of men more than that of God. It will cause them to be overcome by their pursuit of pleasure and possessions. And it will prevent them from being able to please their heavenly Father.

This does not mean that we should not own or even enjoy the things that are in the world. It is impossible to live without the things of the world (some of them, anyway). We are not, however, to let them steal our affection away from God. He is to be the love of our life. With all that we are, we are to turn our hearts toward Him.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Look full in His wonderful face.

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

Overcoming the World–Part 1

I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I John 2:12-13

One of the three primary enemies of believers is the world. Carnality, or worldliness, is a topic that is repeatedly addressed throughout the N.T. God desires for His children to be overcomers against the world. These verses will give us some insight into why we should strive to be victorious over the world.

The first reason I would note is that overcoming the world is a mark of spiritual maturity.

In verse twelve, John addresses these remarks to all believers. His use of teknia (translated, “little children”) is a term of endearment. He is reminding us that all believers have the same relationship with God. Our sins are forgiven for the sake of the name of Jesus. This means that everyone of us has the same opportunity for fellowship with Christ.

I believe that fellowship and maturity are closely related. The more one fellowships with the Savior, the more they will grow in knowledge of Him. This, of course, leads to greater levels of strength and spiritual maturity.

John was writing to the third-generation church. The “fathers” to whom he was speaking were of the same generation as Christ. Given the dispersion of the early church due to persecution, it was possible that he was writing to some who had actually seen or known Jesus. Thus he says, “You have known him that is from the beginning.” They have experienced an ongoing learning process in the doctrine of Christ.

The young men were the strong ones. They were old enough to remember the persecution. They had seen their parents pay the price for identifying with Christ. This had inspired them to take a stand for Jesus as well. They had continued in the doctrines of Christ as taught to them by the “fathers”, thus they were growing stronger and had actually experienced victory over the world.

The little children, (here it is translated from paidia, literally a “small child”) had a knowledge of the heavenly Father. John would desire for them to continue to grow in strength, knowledge and grace so that they would become “young men” and eventually “fathers” themselves.

We can only overcome the world when we are growing in our fellowship with Christ. Tomorrow we will see how the world pulls against us as believers, but may we be encouraged to draw closer to Christ, walk and talk with Him, and let His word dwell in us and cause to grow strong in the faith.