I heard another pastor say something the other day, and I’m wondering if you agree with it. He said, “I’ve never met a person who likes to take tests.” Do you think that’s true? I don’t know if it’s true of everyone but I think it’s true of most people. In fact, I know people who actually have a phobia about taking tests. The minute the test is passed out, they start to panic, freeze up, and can’t remember a thing they’ve studied. In fact, here are a few test questions I’ve come across that would strike fear in the heart of any test taker.
For example, try this final exam question from a history class: Describe the history of the papacy from its origins to the present day, concentrating on its social, political, economic, and religious impact on Europe, Asia, America and Africa. Be brief, concise, and specific. Or how about this final exam for a medical student: You have been given a razor blade, a piece of gauze, and a bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until the professor has inspected your work. You have 15 minutes. Or this final exam question for an engineering student: The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. In it, you’ll also find an instruction manual printed in Swahili. In 10 minutes, a hungry Bengal tiger will be released into the room. Take any action you deem appropriate and be prepared to justify your decision. And here’s one for a science student: Define the universe and give three examples.
In fact, even when we come across test questions that seem simple on the surface, the answers out to be more difficult than we first thought—like the question: How long did the Hundred Years War last? Answer: 116 years. Or the question: What country makes Panama hats? Answer: Ecuador. And even after we graduate from the rigors of academia, we still face tests of various kinds: driver exams, eye tests, entrance exams, drug tests. Law enforcement officers, for example, have to qualify 4 times a year on the shooting range, and those employed in other professions are required to pass regular tests as well.
So that makes me wonder. Is there is a test to determine if we’re in good spiritual shape and pleasing to God? Of course, if you have been with us for the last few studies, you know the answer is “Yes,” because what we have been studying together is a new series based on the book of 1 John, which I call “Living the Life.” Its main purpose is to help us make sure we’re living in right relationship with Jesus Christ. So John gives us several tests by which we can evaluate our spiritual fitness and make sure we are enjoying all the rights and privileges that come with being a child of God—like peace with God, power over sin, close fellowship with other Christians, and the promise of answered prayer.
So far in our study we have examined 3 mark of spiritual health. The first was: Are we walking in the light? The second was: Are we confessing our sins and keeping short accounts with God? The third, which we studied last week, was: Do we have a new hatred of sin and a new desire to live in obedience to Christ? But now John tackles a fourth issue, and today it’s the test of love: Do I love the Lord Jesus Christ with all my heart, mind, and soul, and my neighbor as myself? That is not only an important spiritual question; it’s also a practical question. As Josh McDowell points out, “The two greatest fears people struggle with today are the fear they’ll never be loved and the fear they’ll never be able to love!”
And that’s why this little letter is so important! It answers both those fears with great assurance—that in Christ, we are loved beyond our imagination and able to love others with the same love with which we have been loved by God. Take a moment to read what John says in 1 John 2, verses 7 to 11. The following is from the New American Standard Bible. John says—
“Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you have heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you which is true in Him and in you because the darkness is passing away and the truly Light is already shining. The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
At first, John seems to be contradicting himself in this passage. On the one hand, he says he’s writing a new commandment to us but then he says that it really isn’t new. It’s old. In fact, he says it’s a commandment we’ve had since the beginning. So which is it? Is it old or is it new? Well, as we’ll see in a moment, it’s both old and new. But like John, what I want to emphasize is its newness—its newness in emphasis, its newness in example, and its newness in experience.
The easiest way to explain it is to point out that the Greek language, in which the New Testament was written, had two words for “new”—one meaning new in time; the other meaning new in quality. For example, if you build a house, everything in it is will be new in time—the wood, the wallboard, the doors, the windows, the fixtures, the carpeting, the appliances. They are all fresh from the factory. But if, like us, you live in an older home and remodel it, the kitchen, for example, will be old in time, but new to you because everything in it—the granite countertops, the stainless steel appliances—give it a brand-new quality.
The same is true of this new commandment. There isn’t anything new about it. It’s a tale as old as time; song as old as rhyme. But in Christ, it has a new quality. As Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
John says the same thing here. Love has always been a part of the Law. Leviticus, the third book of the Bible, written 3500 years ago by Moses, says: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But until Jesus came and modeled it for us, that was just one of hundreds of commandments. But what Jesus did first and John does here, is lifts that commandment out of the Law and gives it the place of highest importance! That’s why Paul calls is the law of Christ in Galatians 6:2, and James calls it the royal law in James 2:8. Because it’s the supreme law given to us by our King! Why is love the greatest of all commandments? Because this is the one that fulfills all the others! Listen to Paul explain it in Romans 12:8-10.
“Owe no one anything except to love one another for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
What you and I might never do out of duty alone, we’re quick to do because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit!” Listen to the way Stephen Moore contrasts the two in his poem, “The Second Mile”—
Stern Duty said, “Go walk a mile and help thy brother bear his load.” I walked reluctant, but meanwhile, my heart grew soft with help bestowed. Then Love said, “Go another mile.” I went and Duty spoke no more. But Love arose and with a smile took all the burden that I bore. Tis ever thus when duty calls, if we quickly spring to obey. Love comes, and whatsoe’er befalls, we’re glad to help another day. The second mile we walk with joy; Heaven’s pace goes with us in the road. So let us all our powers employ to help our brother bear life’s load.
His point? Law and duty are great at getting us started doing the things we should. But only the love of Jesus Christ is strong enough to keep us doing them when life is hard and others don’t respond the way we want. In fact, sometimes they respond just the opposite of how we hope. That is why Peter adds what he does in 1 Peter 4:8! He says, “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” This commandment is new in its emphasis. And the second way in which it’s new is its newness in example.
Verse 8 continues (KJV) “Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.” Who is the “him” in verse 8? It’s Jesus Christ, the epitome of love. Before He came, people tried to love, but even their best efforts were like those of blind men groping in the dark. But then Jesus came and people finally understood what real love is. That’s why John can say that the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.
Two thousand years later, it’s hard for us to appreciate how dark the world was when Jesus came. Women were considered to be the property of their husbands, just as children were to be considered the property of their parents with awful and heinous things done to them and permitted under the law. Those who were disabled or suffering from physical defects were believed to have had it coming because of some sin they or their parents committed. And enemies were to be hated and put in chains, not loved and forgiven. Did you know there were more than 6 million slaves in the Roman Empire at the time this was written?
But that all changed with the coming of Jesus. Women are now to be honored as fellow heirs of the grace of life. Jesus blessed the little children and said, “Of such is the kingdom of God.” And though His righteous soul hated sin, there was never any hate for sinners. Instead, every righteous declaration of judgment carried with it a merciful plea that His enemies might have a change of heart. “Father, forgive them,” He prayed from the Cross, “for they know not what they do.” And Paul reminds us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!” In His life, in His teaching, in His death, Jesus was the perfect example of this new commandment. He gave love a quality it never had, which is why our love can be new and different—because Christ, the Lord of Love now lives within us.
William Fletscher, a pastor in Colorado, shares a practical illustration of this truth. He tells about a friend who was running through the airport late for his flight. In his haste, he didn’t notice the little girl in front of him, carrying a jigsaw puzzle in her hands. Colliding with her, the pieces went flying in every direction. But instead of rushing on, as he was tempted to do, he stopped to help her pick them up. When the puzzle was back in its box, the little girl looked up at him and said, “Mister, you must have missed your plane.” The man smiled and said, “So I have!” At which she asked him with all sincerity, “Mister, are you Jesus?”
Love is the mark of the Christian and the foolproof sign that we share in the life of God. Sometimes that’s seen in our big and dramatic demonstrations of love: big gifts, big sacrifices, and big acts of service. But it’s also seen in the little kindnesses of everyday life. So test yourself before we move on. Are you a kind, courteous, and patient person? It’s easy to excuse ourselves by comparing ourselves with those who have less of these virtues than we. But that’s exactly what we’re not to do! The only One we’re to measure our love against is Jesus who is our model for everything and said, “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” It’s a commandment which is new in emphasis, new in example, and there’s a third way it’s new. It’s—
Read verse 8 again. John says, “Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.” (NKJV) In other words, the light which burst forth into the world through Jesus continues to shine through us!
You and I look at the evil in the world, such as we saw last week in Boston, and we wonder, “Can it get any worse?” The truth is: It will get unimaginably worse when we who are filled with the Spirit of Christ are removed from the world at His coming. Almost all of the truly good and great things in the world today—the great hospitals that have been built, the great educational institutions that have been founded, the countless charities and relief agencies and reform efforts and culture of caring that exists even in the midst of the evil and hatred and violence—you don’t find these things in non-Christian cultures. They exist because of the the love of Christ that been at work in the hearts of His people.
Sometimes it’s helpful to explain something by describing just the opposite of what we mean. So John does that here in verse 9. He says, “The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.” One subtle way hate darkens our lives is through a bitter and unforgiving spirit. Someone will say something that hurts our feelings, often unintentionally, or they fail to give us the thanks and recognition we desire, so we feel wounded. But instead of gently discussing how we’ve been hurt, we stop talking, bottle it up, and expect the other person to guess why we’re angry. Have you ever done that or had someone do it to you? All the while are bitterness continues to build until to the point where we find it impossible to love or even love that person any longer.
I’m thinking of two unmarried sisters I read about some time ago. They lived together but because of an unresolved conflict between them, they stopped talking to each other. Neither one could afford to live on her own, so they continued to live in the same house, eating at the same table, using the same appliances, even sleeping in the same room! But without saying one word to the other! In fact, they drew a chalk line down the middle of each room, dividing the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom, and the living room in half with each one coming and going, cooking and eating, sewing and reading without stepping into her sister’s territory. Through the black of the night, each could hear the deep breathing of the other, but because neither one was willing to take the first step in forgiving and forgetting, they lived together for years in bitter silence.
You may think that’s an extreme example, but it’s not! The fact is: Many marriages limp along like that for years without any true affection or intimate conversation between the partners because of conflicts that have never been resolved. Sad to say, churches suffer the same kind of coldness when bitterness instead of love is allowed to grow up. And what’s the tragic result when it does? Verse 10 continues: “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” (KJV)
John assures us that the loving person will never cause anyone to stumble. For even though he too makes social blunders, people see his heart – how full of the love of Christ it is – and they rarely how his mistakes against him. But just the opposite is true of the bitter man. He is a source of darkness and a cause of stumbling to everyone around him—causing unbelievers to doubt the truth of the gospel, sowing division among believers, and destroying both the unity and testimony of the church. That’s why Hebrews 12:15 gives us the warning that it does: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”
Believe it or not, another pastor shared with me that his church was once split over a baby shower. A very vocal woman in the congregation was accidentally overlooked when she gave birth to her third child. But instead of forgiving or asking someone to host a shower for her, she got on the phone and shared her grievance with her friends, convincing several of them to leave the church—all because of a bitter spirit over a third baby shower that was overlooked.
So let me ask you. Is there someone you’re angry with or someone you’re holding a grudge against? If so, let it go and ask Jesus to heal your hurt, and He will. Sometimes praying with a mature Christian can also help to bring healing. So if you think that would help you, talk with your pastor or someone who has a solid relationship with Christ and ask them for counsel. For it is not enough to appreciate the newness of Christ’s love and understand how He modeled it for us in His life; we need to experience it in our own lives as well.
Let me finish on a positive. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said, “The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you love your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you behave as if you love someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”
So here’s my challenge for you. Jot down the name of someone God wants you to shower with His love, and then next to their name, describe one way you will do it this week. You see, the problem with studying about love is that it’s easy to leave it in the theoretical realm (which we all agree with; we all agree we should love more), but that won’t change one thing about the world we live in. What changes us and others is the act and experience of love! So pick one person you’ll shower with His love this week, and then determine that you’ll do it with all the grace God gives you. And then once you do that, pick someone else and do it again, so His light continues to shine in this dark world. Amen?
Father, thank you for the great love with which you have loved us. You have given us a Good Shepherd and a Great Savior in Jesus who continues to love us, protect us, provide for us, guide us, and forgive us in spite of our sins. And now, because you have first loved us, give us grace to love others in very practical and specific ways this day and this week, so that the darkness may continue to fade away in our little corner of this world and that your light may continue to shine. I pray in the gracious name of Jesus. Amen.