May 12-14, 2012
1 JOHN 3:11-20
6th Sunday after Easter
Pastor Tim Smith
11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
LOVE ONE ANOTHER
Have you checked the tank on your gas grill lately? In 1 John, the Apostle wants us to check our spiritual tanks with three different tests: There is a moral text, a doctrinal test, and what we might call a social test. The moral test is obedience to God and God’s will. The doctrinal test is belief: Do I believe what the Bible says? And the third test, the social test, is love. Do I out my faith into action with love?
In chapters 1 and 2 John takes us through those three tests ending up with a warning about the Antichrist, but here in chapter 3 he quickly review all three tests again. Today we focus on the third test of love as John lays the test bare with an answer key: Compare what you’re doing with Christ and with Cain. Who are you closer to?
John reminds us that we have passed from death to life. We need to be reminded about this from time to time. That’s part of what worship and Bible study is all about: checking the tank and re-charging our batteries to remember that we’ve passed from death to life.
And John takes this easy comparison of Cain and Christ and uses them to show us the horizons; to remember that although there are a lot of grey areas in life and a lot of uncertainty, there should be no question in our spiritual lives who it is we trust for forgiveness and eternal life.
Cain belonged to the evil one, Cain murdered his brother—and in this passage, it’s easier to see John’s point if we set aside our own knowledge that we know the name of Cain’s brother, but that we keep calling him “Cain’s brother.” Why did Cain murder his brother? John tells us that it’s because Cain’s own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.
We’re not told in the book of Genesis what was wrong with Cain’s offering as opposed to his brother’s. Cain is an enigma that should make us all uncomfortable. Cain is the first person we know of who ever made a sacrifice to God. Not his brother, not his father, but Cain. And later, God commanded that the same kind of offerings that Cain brought would be required offerings in certain cases for the Israelites, God’s chosen people. So if there was nothing wrong with the substance of his offering, then there was something wrong with the intention or the faith behind it.
But let’s get back to our comparison of Cain and Christ. Cain did the opposite of what Christ did. Cain offered an unacceptable sacrifice, and in his anger and jealousy he killed his brother—he took his brother’s life—because his brother’s offering was acceptable and good to God. If you remember, Cain was then marked by God out of God’s mercy so that no one would kill him to avenge his brother’s blood; to preserve Cain’s life.
Christ offered a perfect sacrifice—himself—and his love and compassion Christ laid down his own life in place of the lives of all his brothers—you and me, his brothers and sisters—to pay for the sins of all his brothers and all of mankind. We are sealed as Christians, bearing the mark, as it were, of Christ’s mercy in our baptism, to preserve our lives into all eternity.
Now: hold that thought. John isn’t just comparing Christ and Cain. He’s comparing Christ and Cain in our lives. He isn’t just letting us know which of those two descendants of Eve was a better man—that’s a no-brainer that almost everyone understands, although there actually are people in the world who think that fall of man was a fall “upward.” Let’s leave that thought for another time.
No; John is asking you and me to recognize which one of these two is living within us: Christ or Cain. And John’s real point of comparison is how they treated their brothers: How Cain treated his brother and how Christ treated all his brothers—which means all of us. If we have a brother or sister or neighbor or even a stranger who needs something, and if we have and love our material things so much that we’re unwilling to help—then, John tells us—then we hate that brother or sister and we’re exactly like Cain.
Maybe you hold a grudge and won’t hold out an olive branch. Maybe someone did something bad to you once and you’re not willing to forgive. Maybe someone did something bad to someone you love and you want to get some kind of payback for that loved one—or however twisted our soap opera lives get. God’s standard is simple and clear: Love.
Love begins with trusting the one who loved us. Love continues and grows by loving the people in our lives, whether they’re there every day or if perhaps they might be the people we see only once, at a stop light, at a restaurant, a visitor at church, a child crying on the sidewalk. We look after their physical needs if we’re able along with their spiritual needs. But love doesn’t say “I can afford to give you the Gospel for free but not a loaf of bread. Love says: “Both the Gospel and the bread,” and there will even be times when love says, “You need to hear the truth.”
There is a misconception in the world that showing love to someone means not hurting their feeling, or means that I always have to let their opinion take precedence over God’s word. But although love and respect go hand in hand, it’s really love and truth—as John points out—that need to run together, especially in spiritual matters.
Love and truth are like the two wings of a bird. Without truth, we won’t get anywhere, and a love that doesn’t tell the truth isn’t love at all. Truthful love will sometimes lead me to tell a friend, “I’m going to help you today by not giving you money that I know you’re going to spend on some vice—you’re going to smoke it, or drink it, or gamble it away, and instead I’m going to let you spend your lunch money on this thing you don’t really need so that you will go hungry and get a better perspective on your priorities. And that doesn’t mean I’m playing “God;” it means I’m holding up a mirror to your life in the same way I would hope that in truthful love you would hold a mirror up to mine.
And our lives don’t always hold up well to this test. Our lives are never perfect, and although God demands perfect and sinlessness from us, that isn’t a reason to despair or to give up hope or to retreat and look out for ourselves. He has put us in the world to do the work of looking after our brothers and sisters—everyone who touches our lives. And when we examine ourselves and see that we’re more like Cain than Christ, we need to remember who Christ is, and what he did for us.
Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. We love him for that—because his death means the payment for our sins is finished and complete. There is no payment for sin left that must be made up. There’s no interest, no entry fee, no initiation. God washed us clean—most of us didn’t even do anything at all to be baptized; it was done to us, even without our asking.
And Christ’s loving payment for our sins means that we have freedom to worship and serve him as a thank you for what he did. None of that is required, but it’s the way we show our love.
While we show our love for Christ, John wants us to remember something: Don’t be surprised if the world hates you for your faith. Don’t hold a grudge. Don’t try to get back. Don’t expect the world to come to a reasonable compromise. It’s not the peripheral things about Christianity that infuriate the world. Whether our pastors wear white robes or black robes, whether a choose to use one Bible translation or another, whether practice loving fellowship or closed communion – these are things that almost everyone in the world can take or leave. It’s Christ himself; it’s the release from the burden of guilt and sin that’s outrageous. But we would give anything up but that.
The forgiveness we have from Jesus is the most priceless treasure any of us possesses. The more we have; the more we understand it and embrace it, the more we will want to share it and give it away. Faith is a never ending spring that swells up and overflows, and that spring of truth and love, the spring of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is what we share and show to everyone around us. Through Jesus, we have passed from death to life.
And the peace of God…